Leeds United v Barnsley: No room for sentiment as Davies eyes safety for Reds

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ADAM DAVIES may profess to having a lot to thank Paul Heckingbottom for, but goodwill will be thin on the ground come kick-off time at Elland Road this afternoon.

Temperatures may have soared towards the back end of this week, but a layer of frost is likely to be detectable in the short distance between the section of the West Stand housing the Barnsley contingent and the home dug-out where former Reds head coach Heckingbottom now resides.

A devilish quirk of late-season fixture fate sees Barnsley – fighting for their Championship lives and two points adrift of safety – call in at Leeds United for a game of immense significance in their survival quest.

The game may not have as much riding upon it for Leeds, stranded in no-man’s land in mid-table, but for Heckingbottom, it assumes a fair degree of importance as he bids to win over some non-plussed sections of the club’s increasingly agitated support after an underwhelming start to his Whites tenure.

Should Barnsley prevail this afternoon, Heckingbottom is likely to feel the cold not just from the away end, but among many Leeds supporters, too.

As someone who knows Heckingbottom well in Davies, the former Oakwell head coach will always be held in high regard by the Reds’ custodian even if one of his last selection calls at Barnsley was to drop him in his final game in charge, a 1-0 loss at QPR on February 3.

Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies in action against Sheffield United earlier this season. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies in action against Sheffield United earlier this season. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The esteem which Reds fans held ‘one of their own’ in Heckingbottom was also a reassuring contact, despite a difficult campaign. But the events of 75 days ago when he moved up the M1 to Leeds totally changed the dynamic of that relationship.

It means that Heckingbottom is likely to get a rough ride from the away end this afternoon and despite the respect that he still retains among Barnsley’s players, favours will not be forthcoming. The Reds have far more important business to attend to.

Sceptical as the prospect of Heckingbottom receiving a warm reception, Davies said: “I hope they (fans) do, but I cannot see it. For obvious reasons, he has gone to one of the biggest rivals in Yorkshire.

“I cannot see it and don’t blame them, but I have not got anything bad to say about Hecky.

It was just the way he worked day in, day out and his man-management was really good. If you ever wanted to speak to him about anything, he was there for you.

Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies

“He was fantastic with me and what he did here was fantastic. But, for me, it was just the way he worked day in, day out and his man-management was really good. If you ever wanted to speak to him about anything, he was there for you.

“I cannot thank him enough. There were times when I was not playing too well, but he stuck with me and I came through it. I set the record for appearances on the spin (123 consecutive games) under him and he is a massive part of my career.

“But come Saturday, we are not going to be pals and I am going to try and get one over him. Hopefully, we can frustrate the Leeds fans and get one over on them. I am sure I will say hello to him before or after the game. But for the 90 minutes, we will be rivals.

“Obviously, it will add an extra bit of spice what happened with Hecky. But, us as players are just concentrating on the game.

Paul Heckingbottom: Faces former club.

Paul Heckingbottom: Faces former club.

“We have just got to concentrate and must prepare like it is any other game, that is our mindset. We obviously need the win, that is what we are fully focused on and we are not too bothered about what is going on in the stadium and what has happened in the past. It is all about the three points.”

Head coaches and managers, much like goalkeepers, regularly find themselves in the firing line in their careers. It comes with the territory.

Just as Heckingbottom will be under the microscope, so Davies has had his moments under the intense glare of the spotlight in a season which has not been without its blemishes.

It culminated in him being axed from the starting line-up to be replaced by Nick Townsend. But a finger injury to Townsend has dictated that Davies is back in goal for the Reds’ climactic end to a turbulent campaign.

Four ‘cup finals’ remain according to the 25-year-old, with the motivation all too obvious for everyone connected with Barnsley, with a spot of schadenfreude regarding Heckingbottom being secondary to the far bigger picture of survival.

It is a time for strong minds and resolve and Davies admits that his late-winter hiatus from the side, despite being painful at the time, has freshened him up for the key battles ahead.

Davies said: “Even despite the position we are in, the changing room is quite upbeat and it is in our hands still and we are not down about it. Four cup finals, let’s go and do it.

“You don’t want a relegation on your CV and we are doing everything we can to prevent that.

“It takes a long time to get back to where you want to be and we have four games left to prevent relegation. We all know the position we are in and what we have got to do to get out of it. It is down to business now.”

On his recent first-team demotion and return, he added: “I did not want to come out, but maybe sub-consciously I needed that bit of rest.

“You never want to be dropped or benched. But I do feel refreshened after that break, although I did not want it. I feel it has helped me in taking it in from the outside and coming back firing on all cylinders.

“It was nice to have that and come into these last eight or nine games refreshened and raring to go and, hopefully, I can help us stay up.”