AFTER a weekend that again saw the race for the League One play-offs take an unexpected twist, Lee Johnson vowed his Barnsley side will maintain their bold approach during the run-in.
The attack-minded Reds came within six minutes of claiming a famous win at runaway leaders Bristol City thanks to goals by Jabo Ibehre and Josh Scowen, only being pegged back by an equaliser from Joe Bryan.
Barnsley’s disappointment at missing out on all three points was, however, eased by Sheffield United and Peterborough United – fifth and sixth respectively ahead of kick-off – suffering shock home defeats to teams battling to stay clear of relegation trouble.
With Bradford City, Rochdale and Chesterfield all winning, the table has concertinaed further.
Just four points separate sixth-placed Dale from Oldham Athletic in 13th and Johnson is adamant that the Oakwell club have as good a chance as any of taking one of the final two play-off berths, the top four having left the rest behind some time ago.
He said: “We are in the mix. Maybe the league table is a little bit false, as a couple of teams have a game in hand and Bradford have two. But we play several of those sides around us. We have Sheffield United next weekend. Then we also have Peterborough and Bradford.
“I think my boys are getting it now. I have noticed a big increase in the tempo at training. That enables you to not only go get results but also come from behind in big games, like the last two (Barnsley drew against second-placed Preston the previous week).
“I was disappointed not to win (at Ashton Gate). That would have been humungous for us. But we are still in it and giving the punters a good run for their money.
“Are we ready? Yes, spirit-wise. Maybe we need that little bit of luck or bit more quality at times. But if we don’t make it this year, I am very, very positive that we can only get better.
“I said to the lads, ‘If we are going to fail then we may as well fail boldly’. That is the key. We are not under masses of pressure.
“It is not like we have been in the top two all season or anything like that. When I came in, it was a case of needing to stay up.”
Barnsley’s rise has, indeed, been remarkable. Just five weeks ago, the Reds had slumped to 19th in the wake of the demoralising 5-1 defeat at Crawley Town.
Since then, a nine-game unbeaten run has transformed the campaign and Johnson points to the 2-2 draw at Bristol City as evidence of the threat his side now pose. He said: “The thing I took out of the game was how disappointed we were not to win. That says a lot. It shows how far we have come.
“Hopefully, we can get in the play-offs this year. But if we don’t then we have to make sure that next year we are pushing not just for the top six but the top two.
“Individually, we have some good players. We just need that bit of experience, which I do feel we are getting.”
Johnson’s sense of satisfaction was matched by that of Phil Parkinson, whose Bradford side beat Oldham 2-0 thanks to a second-half double from Billy Clarke.
If the Bantams can beat Chesterfield tomorrow night, they will move into the top six. Parkinson hailed a “tremendous performance” before adding: “Oldham are a good side and we gave them respect, but I think we had the better chances.”
With Doncaster Rovers’ fixture at Milton Keynes Dons postponed due to international call-ups among the home ranks, Sheffield United were the only Yorkshire side in League One to suffer a setback to their promotion hopes.
Crewe triumphed 2-1 at Bramall Lane thanks to a last-minute strike by Ryan Colclough.
Blades manager Nigel Clough, whose side had beaten Port Vale and Scunthorpe United in the week preceding the loss, said: “There are so many teams in that top half. All will feel, with seven games to go, that they have a chance to make the play-offs.
“The biggest frustration against Crewe was not putting further space between us. But we knew Crewe would come and do what they did.
“They battled and were organised, although they got a goal that was far too soft for our liking in the first half. And that changed the game.
“You look at the last two performances and you don’t concede at home. When we got it back to 1-1, we were entitled to go on and not lose the game.”
Bradford are the only White Rose club in action in midweek before Easter sees them travel to Doncaster, Barnsley host Sheffield United and then Paul Dickov’s Rovers travel to Bramall Lane.