Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom expecting tight play-off battles

BARNSLEY'S caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom believes that the margins between all four League One play-off combatants are wafer thin.

Barnsley caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom (Picture: James Williamson).

The Reds, who finished in sixth place in the regular season, are about to embark on their first experience of the end-of-season lottery in a decade. They host Walsall in their semi-final first leg at Oakwell tomorrow tea-time.

Heckingbottom’s side head into the play-offs on the back of a fantastic 4-1 victory at champions Wigan on Sunday, booking their place in style by becoming the first team to triumph at the DW Stadium since mid-December.

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But the Saddlers themselves head into tomorrow on the back of a comprehensive 5-0 drubbing of Port Vale, while Millwall and Bradford City also start their play-off campaigns buoyed by an impressive sequence of recent results.

Heckingbottom, whose long-term future will be addressed straight after Barnsley’s play-off campaign is completed, said: “If you did a blanket survey of everyone involved in football – every fan and every club – you would be hard pressed to split the teams.

“I don’t know who would pick who. Of the four times involved, we are probably the most similar team to Walsall and Millwall and Bradford are probably the most alike teams, so you will have a contrasting final whoever gets there.

“But in terms of the play-offs, I think it is set up brilliantly.

“The four who are in there are the form teams.

“You have the one in there who have been the most consistent (Walsall) and the two who have been strong and have sustained it (Millwall and Bradford) and us who have come right from the back and come in there.

“There are different brands of football and styles of play in there with good individual players in all four teams and you are looking at what are going to be some good play-offs – semis and final.”

Aidy White is in the fray this weekend, but the game comes too soon for fellow full-backs James Bree and George Smith although they could be involved if Barnsley make it through to the final at the end of this month.

Meanwhile, Smith has signed a 12-month contract extension, and academy players Brad Abbott, George Maris, Ben Drennan and Bailey Gooda have been released.