‘Man of the people’ set to ensure he stays in the frame

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No-one needs tell Barnsley defender Bobby Hassell about the danger of complacency.

Five victories in six games may have catapulted the Tykes into play-off contention but Hassell says that is even more reason to keep both feet firmly on the ground.

Only 12 months ago, the men from Oakwell were enjoying a similar spell of good fortune and were sitting 10th in the Championship table on 29 points.

Alarmingly, they won only five of their next 25 games and finished the season sweating over relegation.

For Hassell, the only surviving member of the Barnsley side which won promotion in 2006, the possibility of a return to League One football delivered a serious wake-up call.

Which is why now, speaking ahead of tonight’s televised home clash with Ipswich Town, he is quick to deliver a note of caution.

“This is a very good run but we are not getting too carried away,” he said. “We are only one point better off than we were at this stage last year and then we had a disastrous run.

“We will try and draw on that experience and how we faded off but I don’t think the gaffer will let us fade off.”

Hassell, 31, has spent the last seven years at Barnsley – often fighting a battle for acceptance whenever the club has changed managers.

This season, as he has done in the past, Hassell appears to be coming out on top.

The Tykes suffered disappointment in the opening four games before new manager Keith Hill – who signed four new defenders over the summer – finally showed his faith in Hassell’s ability.

“It was frustrating at the start of the season but it has happened to me every time a new manager has come in,” reflects Hassell, who has also played for the Tykes under Paul Hart, Andy Ritchie. and Simon Davey.

“They don’t know much about me and I think they want to bring their own players in who they feel they can trust. I always have to bide my time but I have basically been consistent in the way I have trained and shown a good attitude.

“It’s happened two or three times but you just draw from those experiences. You show the right attitude, work well, and gain the manager’s trust.”

Even Hassell would admit that he is no household name. He started his career at Mansfield Town, is now the wrong side of 30, and has never played top-flight football.

But if hard work alone can unlock the door to the Premier League, the Derby-born player’s first opportunity may still materialise.

Former Rochdale manager Hill has instilled a work ethic in the Barnsley squad that Hassell says is unrivalled during his time with the club.

He also feels that Hill’s personality on the training ground is playing a major factor in the recent results.

“I think this is the hardest working team I have been involved with. Without a doubt,” he added. “It’s very similar to the team that got promoted in terms of team spirit. Things are looking good and the manager deserves a lot of praise for what he has done in the dressing room.

“It is the most I’ve enjoyed training since the days of Andy Ritchie – and that is always good for a player as you are getting older,” he added. “You need to be motivated every day to go out and train well and the manager is always in your ear and makes everyone laugh.

“Team spirit is the most important thing for me,” he added. “It’s a massive ingredient for any team and it starts from the top. It can get you an extra five or 10 points a season. It got us promoted (in 2006) when we probably didn’t deserve to get promoted.”

One of Hassell’s biggest qualities has been the versatility which allows him to play anywhere across the back four or to sit deep in the midfield. Currently playing at right-back, he is fighting off competition for his place from summer signing Scott Wiseman.

Hassell oozes modesty and, unsurprisingly, is one of the most popular players with the club’s supporters.

“It only takes an injury or loss of form or suspension to be out of the team so I am not taking anything for granted,” he said. “At the minute, I’m playing but it could change next week as Scott did well last week at left-back. I will never change – whether I am playing or not – I will always try and encourage those who are playing while keeping myself fit so if I get a chance I can take it.

“I have got 18 months left on my contract and I want to stay longer – but we will have to see where my legs are and whether I am still featuring in the manager’s plans.”

Last summer, few would have predicted that Barnsley would be the side in today’s contest seeking a victory to get into the top six. Or that big-spending Ipswich Town would have lost seven games in a row putting pressure on their manager Paul Jewell.

“I am very surprised where they are because they have very good players and an experienced manager,” Hassell said. “That’s football. Sometimes confidence can go and you start leaking goals.

“I think they have the worst defensive record in the league so we will have to try and take advantage. They will want to end their bad run and we want to keep our run going, but it’s never as easy as the formbook suggests.

“In football, there is always a bad result around the corner and you have to guard against that. We just need to keep working hard to get to the 50-point tally. After that, the next target is to beat last season’s tally which is 56. If we are on that, with plenty of games left, we will see where we are.

“We could achieve anything this season,” he stressed. “It’s easy to get promoted in this league and it is also easy to get relegated. There are only three or four teams who you would probably guarantee to be in the top eight, the rest of us are always fighting for the rest of the positions.”

The Tykes have three games out of the next four at home and Hassell hopes a continued run of good form will help bring more supporters back to Oakwell. Yet this ‘man of the people’ also understands the financial pressures many are under.

“Attendances are down this year but we are in a recession and its coming up to Christmas so people are using their money on other things,” he said.

“I know this game’s on TV but if they can come and get behind the lads, they can push us on because they are always like a 12th man.

“It’s great winning football matches and we have got three of the next four at home.

“Let’s see where we are in four games?”

ian.appleyard@ypn.co.uk