Barnsley v Cardiff City - Why keeping Reds up would be better than title success

THERE may be no civic reception or jeroboams of Champagne should Barnsley retain their cherished Championship status in May, but Barnsley striker Conor Chaplin is in no doubt about one thing.
Barnsley's Connor Chaplin. (Picture: Tony Johnson)Barnsley's Connor Chaplin. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Barnsley's Connor Chaplin. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Namely, it will represent the biggest achievement of his career to date, even if there will be no trophies or medals in sight.

Part of a Portsmouth side who clinched the League Two title in dramatic circumstances on the final day of the 2016-17 season amid ecstatic scenes at Fratton Park – when slip-ups from Doncaster Rovers and Plymouth Argyle allowed Pompey to jump from third to first – it is some acknowledgement from Chaplin.

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He and his team-mates were duly hailed by thousands of supporters at a gathering on Southsea Common when Pompey were officially presented with the title – which saw the club become just the fifth team to win all of the four top divisions in England.

By contrast, there would be no gongs for Chaplin and company should the Reds survive. Yet the sense of inward satisfaction at crowning the best season of his career would be as a precious as his League Two winners’ medal.

For the Worthing-born forward, it would be the perfect end to a wholesome campaign, which has seen him eclipse his best goals tally for a season – with a couple of months of 2019-20 to go – and named as the Championship’s player of the month for December.

Speaking ahead of this afternoon’s game with Cardiff, one of the clubs he scored against during a bountiful six-goal haul over the festive month, 12-goal Chaplin said: “It would probably be the biggest achievement. I won League Two at Portsmouth, but we were the best team in that division by a long way, really.

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“I think this has probably got to be my best season. Also because I am playing at the highest level I have played at. It is something I have really enjoyed; I have really enjoyed the intensity and the challenge of the Championship.

“When you are in it, you don’t really want to be in any other league. That is another reason as to why we are so desperate to stay up.”

Chaplin positively breezed into the press room behind Oakwell’s West Stand with a wisecrack or two not far away.

His performance in front of the cameras also displayed an assured air, but the right sort of confidence.

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The belief of a relatively young professional fully embracing his first season in the second-tier was striking and pointed to a player at home in his surroundings and in the company of his team-mates in the process.

It remains to be seen if Barnsley do succeed in their aim of staying up, but this group of emerging players of similar ages are fighting and have grown closer through plenty of adversity this season. They want to do it for their club, but also each other, just as importantly.

“We are all of a similar age, so it is not exactly been hard to have things in common or been tough to socialise together,” continued Chaplin.

“We have team days out and meals out away from the club that people obviously don’t see. In terms of day-to-day, everyone gets on really well and it is a really happy group. It is a confident group as well.

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“I know there have been times before when I have been sat in this seat that people have been surprised by that.

“But it is a confident bunch, even though at times, we have not been winning games. That is sometimes a strength we have in the changing room.

“The Birmingham game was a bit of a pivotal moment in our season. The mood after that game is probably as low as it has been.

“To then go on and get three wins from that is something no-one would have expected from the outside – only lads from inside expected we could do that.”

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The run has ensured that Barnsley still possess a realistic chance of survival, while several historically bigger clubs fret about their own chances of staying up – with the pressure on their shoulders, according to Chaplin.

“It probably does play into our hands. Others have the the pressure of looking at people on the outside, while we have really not got much to lose,” he said.

“People expect us to go down. But we are not really bothered about what people are saying from the outside.

“We know what we have got in that changing room and we know the mentality and quality. We expect to get out of it and we are going to have a right good go.”

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