Video - Barnsley v Oxford United: Big day out is fine but Reds’ primary aim is still promotion

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Barnsley caretaker head coach Paul Heckingbottom says he would swap Wembley glory on Sunday for promotion back to the Championship.

The Reds face Oxford United at Wembley in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy looking for a rare piece of silverware.

Barnsley's caretaker head coach, Paul Heckingbottom.

Barnsley's caretaker head coach, Paul Heckingbottom.

Barnsley missed out on an FA Cup final chance when losing to Cardiff City in the semi-finals at the national stadium in 2008.

But interim boss Heckingbottom insists the No 1 priority this season has to be promotion out of League One.

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UP FOR THE CUP: Barnsley fans at the 2000 play-off final defeat to Ipswich Town. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

UP FOR THE CUP: Barnsley fans at the 2000 play-off final defeat to Ipswich Town. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

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The Tykes stand just two points outside the top six going into this weekend, an amazing feat when you consider the South Yorkshire club were at the bottom of League One just a few months ago.

Heckingbottom has continued the revival job started by former boss Lee Johnson – the Bristol City manager will be a special guest of the Reds at Wembley – losing just three times in 21 outings.

It means Barnsley are well-placed to fight for a play-off spot – Wigan and Burton look secure in the top two – and the chance to return to Wembley in May in the League One play-off final.

“It would be fantastic to win this trophy, but I would definitely swap success at Wembley against Oxford for promotion this season,” said Heckingbottom.

“One hundred per cent, I would.

“That wouldn’t even warrant a second thought because the prize of promotion for a club is massive in terms of the financial rewards it brings.

“And for the players it’s huge because it can make careers.

“The Championship is the fourth biggest league in the world, so we are under no illusions about what getting there means for us.

“And, at the end of the day, I reckon nothing can compare with winning a play-off final.

“But we are trying to get both and, right now, Oxford is our biggest game of the season because it’s the one in front of us and we’re aiming to win it.

“But, as soon as this one’s done, Chesterfield becomes the biggest game of our season.”

Heckingbottom does not have fond memories of Wembley, his only appearance at the old stadium coming in 2000 when his Darlington side lost to Peterborough United in the play-offs.

But tomorrow will be a proud moment for the Tykes boss, as he leads his home-town team out at Wembley.

“This will be my first trip to the new Wembley, and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

“My only playing time there was at the old stadium in a 2000 play-off final for Darlington. We got beaten by Peterborough, so I haven’t got good memories of the place.

“But the occasion and what it means is still fresh in my mind, and it’ll be great to go to the new Wembley and hopefully get the result we are after.

“I’ll be massively proud to lead the team out there – and even more so because Barnsley are my home-town team and it’s something that I’m sure will always stay with me through the years,” he added.

If Barnsley are to triumph on Sunday they will have to improve their recent record at Wembey.

They lost 4-2 to Ipswich Town in 2000 in the Championship play-off final, after beating Birmingham City over two legs in the semi-finals.

Then eight years ago, Barnsley lost out again at Wembley, slipping to a 1-0 defeat to Cardiff in an FA Cup sem-final appearance.

They did have better luck playing at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium 10 years ago, beating Swansea City 4-3 on penalties – after the game finished 2-2 after extra-time – in the League One play-off final.

Heckingbottom – who is waiting on fitness tests for key duo Sam Winnall and Marley Watkins – will try to enjoy the Wembley experience, without the added pressure of a play-off final.

He said: “It’s about enjoying the occasion and that’s the message we need to get across to the players every game and they have to embrace the pressure and the tension.

“But unlike a play-off final, there is not nearly as much at stake but anything we’ve tried to do with the players has been about enjoying it.

“Everybody’s got a part to play in getting us a win on Sunday, including the players who can’t play.

“I’ll go there with the mindset of making the most of it and enjoying the day.

“We’re going for the win, but I want the whole experience to be a memorable one for everyone connected with our club.

“For me and the players, though, there will be no time to look back and reflect on the day until after the season has ended because we’ve still got so much to play for.

“We want promotion and, as soon as this final is over, we’ll be thinking about our league game against Chesterfield next Saturday.

“But the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final will be something for us to savour in moments and years to come when, dependent on the result of course, we can look back and think ‘yeah, we did well there’.

“I want us to do ourselves proud at Wembley, and I have no doubts that my players will do just that.

“So my message to them is simple, and I’ve already told them to make the most of Wembley, enjoy the occasion and ‘don’t let it pass you by’.”

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