BARNSLEY assistant manager Dale Tonge believes wiping out Luton Town’s six-point advantage at the top of League One before the leaders are next in action would “put a real marker down” in the promotion race.
The Reds, second in the table after winning nine of their last 11 games, host Burton Albion tonight before making the long trip to promotion rivals Portsmouth on Saturday.
Back-to-back wins would pull head coach Daniel Stendel’s men level on points with Luton, who must wait until Sunday lunchtime for their next outing, at home to Coventry City.
“We have two games before Luton play again,” said Tonge to The Yorkshire Post. “So psychologically we know if we do our job then we can put a real marker down going into the following weeks.
“But we also cannot afford to look too far ahead. Burton will be hard to beat. Nigel (Clough, Brewers manager) has a team that represents him well.
“They have a desire and we expect nothing but a very tough game. Wherever he has been all his teams perform the same way and are honest. They will be hard to beat and it is up to us to work out a strategy.”
There was a very big cheer when Southend scored their third goal. Results did go for us at the weekend but we have to deal with only ourselves and what is in our hands.Dale Tonge
An intriguing few days lie ahead in the push for the Championship with Sunderland and Pompey, the two teams chasing Barnsley hardest, also in action tonight in front of their own fans against Gillingham and Bristol Rovers respectively.
The Black Cats will then travel to Bristol to take on the Pirates at the same time as Barnsley head to Fratton Park, meaning the table could look very different by the time Luton kick off at noon on Sunday.
“We had the Portsmouth game on TV because it was an early kick-off,” added Tonge about last weekend’s 3-3 draw between Pompey and Southend United.
“There was a very big cheer when Southend scored their third goal. Results did go for us at the weekend, but we have to deal with only ourselves and what is in our hands.
“That is the only thing we can control. There is a big confidence around the boys and lots of positivity. We genuinely are not looking any further ahead because we know each game is tough on its own merit.”
Tonight’s fixture was rearranged after the original meeting was postponed in September.
Barnsley’s long-serving volunteer Stephen Croft suffered a heart-attack shortly before the scheduled 3pm kick-off.
He was saved by medical staff from both clubs before being whisked to hospital by the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.
Croft has since made a full recovery and will lead the two teams out ahead of a fixture that will see a collection made on behalf of the Air Ambulance.
“All the players were affected by it and for two or three days after that as well,” said Burton manager Clough, who will welcome Croft into the away dressing room before kick-off. ”It was absolutely the right decision to call the game off at the time.”
Reds assistant Tonge, who had only just returned to Oakwell with the Under-18s after a morning game when the Burton fixture was called off, added: “We are doing a lot of fundraising around the game.
“It is a big game not just for us as a team, but as a club. Stephen represents us as a club and gives up his own time for free. Volunteers like him are priceless.
“The incident was awful, but the response from the medical staffs and then the Air Ambulance was fantastic. We are all thankful Stephen has made a full recovery.
“He is leading the team out against Burton and that is an extra motivation for the boys, as they see him every single game.”
Burton will arrive at Oakwell on the back of a five-game unbeaten run on the road in the league.
Kieffer Moore, the Reds’ top-scorer, is again missing with concussion and is not expected to return until after the weekend trip to Portsmouth.
It means Barnsley will again be looking to in-form Cauley Woodrow to maintain a goalscoring streak that has seen the 24-year-old net six times in his last six outings and 13 overall this season for the club.
“He has become something of a talisman,” added Tonge about Woodrow, whose debut had to be delayed until November due to hamstring trouble suffered soon after his arrival from Fulham last summer.
“He and Kieffer as a frontline pair proved a very good partnership, but he has now become that talisman for the group after getting into double figures for his goals.
“He’s a very, very good player for this level. A class act.
“We all feel he can go higher, hopefully with this club come the end of the season.”
Last six games: Barnsley WWDWWW Burton Albion DLDDWD.
Referee: M Coy (County Durham).
Last time: Barnsley 1 Burton Albion 2; February 20, 2018; Championship.