Gillingham v Barnsley: Hourihane backs Heckingbottom for permanent role

Barnsley's Conor Hourihane celebrates his opening goal against Fleetwood.
Barnsley's Conor Hourihane celebrates his opening goal against Fleetwood.
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When Conor Hourihane scored a late equaliser to earn Barnsley a 1-1 draw against Sheffield United few people outside of Oakwell could have predicted what would come next.

Lee Johnson’s side had endured a terrible run which saw them anchored at the foot of League One. But eight wins out of nine league games – including their last seven outings – have seen the Tykes climb to 10th, overtaking the Blades, to sit just five points off the play-offs.

A trip to Wembley has also been secured in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, though Johnson departed last week for Bristol City.

Paul Heckingbottom and Tommy Wright take charge for today’s trip to fourth-placed Gillingham, and Hourihane admits it has been “a roller-coaster week”.

“It’s been mad,” said Hourihane. “If you said seven games ago we would win seven on the bounce and get to Wembley, you’d think ‘no chance’.

“But anything can change in football, when you get momentum and ride a wave it just seems to flow. Hopefully, that’ll keep going for us and we’ll enjoy it while we can.

“Hopefully, the play-offs are in sight. We’ll have to take it one game at a time and I know that’s an old cliché but you can’t jump the gun too early.

“We need to keep working hard and go to Gillingham wanting three points.”

Barnsley have an impressive record against the Gills, having won their six meetings. The last time they lost was August 25, 2001.

Hourihane said: “We won down there this time last year, so, hopefully, we can repeat that. When we won there last year, we went nine games unbeaten so let’s hope there’s a similar situation.”

Hourihane believes Heckingbottom – in charge for last Sunday’s win over Bury – has the dressing room support to succeed departed Johnson on a permanent basis. He said: “I think we showed there’s been no disruption whatsoever with our performance on Sunday. The lads and myself speak highly of Paul Heckingbottom. He’s been involved with me since I signed and he’s a knowledgeable coach, the lads have high respect for him.”

Caretaker head coach Heckingbottom said: “Gillingham are a good strong side, they’ve been up there from minute one. They’ve been scoring goals all season.”

Last six: Gillingham WLDWLD Barnsley WWWWDW.

Referee: D Bond (Lancs).

Last time: Gillingham 0 Barnsley 1, February 28 2015, League One.