WEMBLEY may be on Barnsley’s horizon, but tomorrow is the Tykes’ real ‘cup final’.
This is the view of Reds head coach Lee Johnson ahead of a crunch League One trip to Colchester United.
A two-legged Northern final against Fleetwood Town in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy stands between Barnsley and a rare trip to Wembley.
But the bottom-of-the-table club travel to Colchester tomorrow knowing a win would leapfrog them over the hosts and – depending on other results – possibly out of the bottom four.
For a side that suffered eight consecutive league defeats, to leave them languishing at the bottom of League One, this is a huge incentive for Johnson.
He believes results are now starting to reflect improved performances, the Reds having earned a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United in the league before knocking big-spending Wigan Athletic out of the JPT.
“We need that cup final mentality,” said Johnson. “A win, whether or not we get out of the bottom four, would mean we would certainly go above Colchester and get off the bottom.
“That’s on the back of the result against Sheffield United, where we battled back and showed character, and a really good performance and character win against Wigan.
“We can just start building, play on that confidence, and start progressing.
“Not just with the team, but the fans, and get that love back in the room.
“Let’s let everybody feel like we are growing, developing, and we are going to start kicking on.
“Colchester is now the most important game, it’s massive, and it’s a cup final game for us.
“They have a very attacking team, and also score a lot of goals. I am not going to be disrespectful to them. We have also shipped far too many goals this season. You are down at the bottom because something is wrong. We just have to focus on being a threat.”
Where Barnsley have gone wrong this season is their frailty in defence.
The Reds have amazingly scored more goals than league leaders Burton Albion, 25 compared to 24, but have leaked 34 goals in those 20 games, compared to Burton’s 16.
“It says where we are and we need to tighten up,” admitted Johnson. “Not a lot of our goals have been poor tactically, they have been individual errors.
“I don’t know if the players are switching off, not concentrating, or whether we need to change the players.
“Or whether we just need that bit of confidence that a couple of wins give you. It would be good to get a clean sheet. we need one.
“Our work rate has certainly deserved a clean sheet in the last five or six games, but we just keep making a couple of errors.
“I think Colchester are very good going forward, but have obviously conceded a lot of goals this year.
“It will be a tough game and a journey for us.
“The boys are up for it though, they have been buoyed by the win and performance at Wigan.
“I can feel within the ranks they know this one is important. We want to go above them so will be going there with a game plan.”
Johnson this week extended the loan deal of 19-year-old Newcastle United striker Ivan Toney for a further month, until January 9.
It capped off a good week for the former Northampton Town striker, who netted his first Reds goal in the JPT win at Wigan.
“Newcastle have been happy with him being here, and we are happy to have him,” said Johnson.
“I think he has taken a lot of confidence from scoring last week. Young players, and certainly Ivan, get frustrated when they don’t score. He had had a few good opportunities and shots from distance that he should have done better with.
“But his general game is good. He’s a bit unorthodox, he gets hold of the ball, is a nuisance to play against. It was important to get a striker in who can hold the ball up and lay it off to people, to allow the second phase to develop.
“Newcastle think very highly of him, they spent a lot of money on him from Northampton. He’s clearly too good for their Under-21 level, but not quite right for their first team.
“They have kept a close eye on him – sent a scout to every game – and we have been giving them a detailed report on a weekly basis.
“He will feel 10ft tall after that game, and that’s what you want, because strikers breed on confidence.”
As well as extending Toney’s loan, winger Adam Hammill has also committed to Oakwell until next summer.
He was one of 10 players whose deals expire next month, and Johnson is keen to secure several of his other loan signings before January.
“We are working on them, talking to clubs, gauging scenarios and situations,” he said. “We are also looking to add to our squad, to bolster it, in January. Preparations have started for that. It’s a continuous progression.”