Barnsley manager Danny Wilson believes a Leeds United team desperate to impress new ownership will offer as stern a challenge as any side battling for promotion or against relegation.
The revitalised Reds will welcome their Yorkshire rivals to Oakwell tomorrow as they continue their fight to stay in the Championship.
A priceless victory over fellow relegation strugglers Charlton on Tuesday night has given substance to the long-held belief within the Barnsley dressing room that they are good enough to once again defy the odds and avoid demotion to the third tier.
The Leeds team they welcome tomorrow is one shorn of confidence after a draining start to 2014 both on and off the pitch.
History is also on Barnsley’s side, as they have comfortably dispatched their rivals from up the M1 on their three previous visits to South Yorkshire, the Reds netting 11 goals in the process.
But Wilson believes that past results have no bearing on the present, and that Leeds players and staff will be out to convince new owner Massimo Cellino they have a future at the club.
“They’re not in the play-off hunt or fighting against relegation, but sometimes a relaxed team is a difficult one to play against, so they’re just as dangerous,” said Wilson, whose side are two points from safety with four games to play.
“With the whole new ownership issue it puts a different light on the approach of players and the management, because the owner is there to be impressed.
“I’m sure he’ll be here on Saturday to see who he wants to keep for next season.
“They’ve had a good result and performance last week, so I think no matter what the results at present Leeds have got a very good side and they’re more than capable of putting it all together in any given game.”
Praise was forthcoming from both camps yesterday in the build-up to what is always a fiercely-fought local derby. Wilson said he had great admiration for counterpart Brian McDermott in the way he handled himself amid the takeover saga, which at one stage saw the manager sacked and then reinstated. McDermott, meanwhile, described Wilson as a “top bloke and a top manager”.
Wilson’s stock will rise further in the eyes of his opposite number and the rest of football if he can oversee another escape from relegation.
Barnsley have seemed doomed on a number of occasions this season, but Tuesday night’s win over Charlton has given the club hope.
“It’s given us a chance,” said Wilson, who believes the relegation equation is down to three teams from seven – one of that trio being Doncaster Rovers who host Derby County tonight.
“We’ve pulled a few teams closer to us which was paramount to our approach.
“Had we not won on Tuesday it would have been a completely different mentality going forward, but now it’s a very positive one.
“We’ve had some good performances in recent months.
“We’ve been progressing in terms of performance but the most important one we had to get right was the Charlton game and that’s why we go into the next challenge – Leeds – full of hope.
“Should we win it puts enormous pressure on the teams around us.
“I’m hoping each one of the next four games is the biggest game of the season because that means we’re still in the fight.
“Ideally we’ll get it sorted before then, but that’s unlikely.
“We always felt it would go to the last weekend and it’s looking like that will be the case.
“Who knows what the twists and turns are? But we’re approaching these last four games in good form.”
On Barnsley’s recent history against Leeds, Wilson was adamant that it means nothing come kick-off tomorrow.
“We can’t rely on that to get us any yardage in the game,” he said. “We’ll have to work as hard as we have in any game this season to get anything from it.
“It’s a great game, I don’t think we could ask for a better one.
“There’s a lot of pride at stake, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend and a terrific one to get people into the club and get the fans behind us and it would be a terrific one to win. But we have to play the game and not the occasion.”
The bulk of the Easter programme begins this afternoon, with Barnsley and Leeds among a handful of teams who have to play two games in 48 hours, with a trip to Derby for the Reds on Monday following hot on the heels of tomorrow’s Yorkshire derby.
Such a cluttered schedule could give an embattled manager an easy excuse, but to his credit Wilson sees the challenge to his limited resources only as a positive.
“The raw emotion will get us through it,” he said. “It can be good when the next game’s at your feet before you know it.”
McDermott, meanwhile, said yesterday that he expects there to be renewed interest in Leeds United striker Ross McCormack once the season is over.
Leeds turned down a bid of £6m from Cardiff City in the January transfer window, but with 27 goals for a struggling club, McDermott expects to have another busy summer fending off interest in the Scottish forward.
“I’m sure there will be some interest in him,” said McDermott. “He’s the top goalscorer in the Championship so I’m sure there’ll be interest.”