DAVID FLITCROFT has challenged his Barnsley players to pull off “the biggest achievement of their footballing lives” by escaping relegation from the Championship.
The Reds continued their recent upturn in form by knocking Hull City out of the FA Cup over the weekend to earn a fifth-round trip to Milton Keynes Dons.
That joy at reaching the last 16 was, though, tempered by results elsewhere on Saturday as relegation rivals Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City all claimed victories in the league.
It means Barnsley host Millwall tonight, in an encounter that had been pencilled in for the fourth round weekend, sitting seven points adrift of safety.
A continuation of the dramatic improvement in results since Flitcroft succeeded Keith Hill a month ago is, therefore, required.
Flitcroft said: “We are in a situation where we have a chance to put right all the disappointment we have suffered in the league.
“I have told the players that they can be part of something special. The biggest achievement of their footballing lives. Bigger than promotion and bigger than winning cups.
“We have been able to galvanise a group of players who want to put things right that have gone wrong. The players have bought into that mentality.
“They know this is a ride and I have to take them along. I won’t lead from above them, I will lead from within them. I will be the heartbeat of what they do and make sure I am there for them in good times and bad. They all know that.”
Barnsley have agreed a short-term contract with Jason Scotland, recently released by Ipswich Town, and the 33-year-old striker is in the squad to face Millwall tonight.
The Trinidad and Tobago international will join a buoyant group of players fresh from a hugely encouraging win at Hull that took Flitcroft’s record to two wins and two draws from his five games in charge.
Asked about the impact he has made since succeeding former manager Hill, Flitcroft said: “The players have responded to the leadership I have given. I knew how I wanted to lead. I knew how I wanted to be as a coach. I knew what I wanted to be as a manager, and that was inspirational.
“I have been able to do that in a short space of time. But that is all it is, a short space of time. We have achieved nothing yet.”
Barnsley’s upturn in form since beating Burnley in the FA Cup third round on January 5 is in stark contrast to how the Yorkshire club finished 2012.
Just one win – a 2-1 triumph at tonight’s opponents, Millwall – in 14 outings led to the end of Hill’s reign in late December with the Reds propping up the Championship.
Flitcroft lost his first game in temporary charge at Peterborough United when the home side netted a late winner, but since then the club’s season has been transformed.
The Reds manager, confirmed in the job following the 2-0 derby win over Leeds on January 12, said: “Saturday was a great feeling as I love the FA Cup.
“It is a special competition. Hull had only been beaten four times at home by Championship opposition. So to win was special.
“Out of possession, we were very good at Hull. Resilient, courageous and determined. But in possession, we weren’t very good. We weren’t fluent enough and there was a lack of quality.
“There are two sides to football, but the ugly side is something I do appreciate and do know about. To me, the ugly side can be beautiful.
“We got that right in every sense against Hull; how we closed players down, stopped shots and got the blocks in – I couldn’t ask any more. I was pleased from that side, but there is a lot to improve on. We will be working on that.”
Millwall will arrive at Oakwell fresh from their own FA Cup fourth-round win, Aston Villa having been beaten at The Den on Friday night.
Former Leeds defender Shane Lowry will return for the Lions after being forced to sit out the Cup win through suspension, while one-time York City man Martyn Woolford is also available after being Cup-tied.
For the Reds, Bobby Hassell and Scott Wiseman are set to retain their places after impressing against the Tigers after lengthy absences.
Flitcroft said: “The run we are on will be a massive help in the league. I am a massive believer in trying to maintain standards. One thing I do know, I will keep demanding those standards from these players. Winning becomes a habit.”
Last six games: Barnsley LLWWDW, Millwall LWWDLW.
Last time: Barnsley 1 Millwall 3; January 21, 2012; Championship.
Referee: G Sutton (Lincolnshire).