BARNSLEY manager Keith Hill has warned that the club’s season is about to get even tougher.
The Tykes are nine points clear of the relegation zone ahead of today’s Yorkshire derby against Leeds United, but have suffered three consecutive defeats.
Injuries are starting to bite into his small squad and uncertainty surrounds the future of captain Jacob Butterfield.
Only three weeks ago, the men from Oakwell sat on the fringes of the play-off race yet Hill always stressed that survival was still the priority this season.
Now Hill has issued another reality check and claims his players are being pushed to the limit by the demands of life in the Championship.
“It’s going to be really difficult over the next few games because there is now a psychological element to the sequence of results we are going through,” he said. “I have looked at the size and the quality of other squads in this division and I am asking too much of my players. The demands I am putting on them are extreme.
“We are flogging the players too often and, as a manager, I fear the psychological and physical demands of this division. It’s difficult to keep asking my players to play with freshness and mobility and to keep getting positive results. We need a break and we definitely need to recruit in the New Year and recycle players.”
Both Danny Drinkwater and Nile Ranger, who helped the Tykes record a 2-1 victory over Leeds at Elland Road a month ago, are now back with parent clubs Manchester United and Newcastle United, respectively, due to injuries.
Winger Jim O’Brien, who was one of Barnsley’s best performers that afternoon, is also struggling with a stomach strain.
“We are down to 14 or 15 fit players for two massive games,” said Hill, whose side visit Doncaster Rovers on Monday afternoon. “We are down to the bare bones and if we were winning games on a regular basis, I wouldn’t feel as uncomfortable. I am just glad we have got a cushion by reaching 30 points but these next two games are going to be tough.”
Hill admits that Barnsley’s confidence has been knocked by three consecutive defeats but says there are still positives, insisting that moving to Oakwell last summer was the best decision of his career and hopes supporters will reserve judgment on his impact until the end of the season.
“This has been one of the best years of my life,” he said. “I could have lived in a comfort zone (at Rochdale) for the rest of my life and not really tested myself but coming to Barnsley was the best decision I ever made
“It’s been the biggest test of my short managerial career because, prior to this, all I have ever had is success. The success we are creating at this club might not always be evident on the eye, but a lot of work is being done behind the scenes to galvanize and create a new future for Barnsley.
“It’s going to get even tougher this season,” he stressed. “We could have been sat bottom of the league at this stage, quite comfortably, but we are not because of the players over- achieving. At the end of the season, the difference will be shaped by the size of the squads, recruitment, and financial resources.
“I am happy with the players we have retained and recruited but we are still shopping in a different market to a lot of other Championship clubs.”
Although Barnsley are unbeaten in the last five Yorkshire derbies against Leeds in the league since 1998, Hill says those results will count for nothing this afternoon.
Leeds are under pressure to get back to winning ways after slipping out of the play-off zone.
“Someone once said the past is a great place to live,” Hill mused. “You have fond memories which get better the older you get. But I don’t deal with history, I deal with facts. And we cannot take our eye off the present and the future which is what we can affect.
“I have only been involved in one Leeds-Barnsley fixture which we have won. I hope it’s another great game this weekend and the same result.”