Barnsley v Southend: ‘I still see wins as taking us away from the drop’, says Tykes captain Conor Hourihane

HAPPY DAYS: Conor Hourihane is still getting used to looking up rather than over his shoulder as the Reds aim for play-offs. Picture: James Hardisty
HAPPY DAYS: Conor Hourihane is still getting used to looking up rather than over his shoulder as the Reds aim for play-offs. Picture: James Hardisty
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For a team battling relegation just three months ago, Barnsley captain Conor Hourihane is struggling to get acclimatised to their new lofty position.

Caretaker coach Paul Heckingbottom has built on the platform left by Lee Johnson and Barnsley have gone from bottom three to top six in an amazing change of fortunes.

Just one defeat in 2016 has raised optimism so much at Oakwell that there is talk of the Reds even attaining automatic promotion. Wigan are in second spot, nine points ahead with 11 games remaining.

With a trip to Wembley on the horizon in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, too, there is a definite feelgood vibe in this pocket of South Yorkshire.

“What we’re doing now is a bonus, considering we were rock bottom of the table around three months ago,” said Hourihane.

“Every time we win a game, I still think that’s us further away from the relegation zone.

“To talk of automatic promotion is a bit far-fetched but everyone can dream I suppose.

“The turnaround and the run we’re on is something we never thought we would do. All of a sudden we’re going to Wembley and people are talking about the play-offs.

“There’s a lot of happy faces in there but our feet are firmly on the ground because we know how bad it was.”

Today, the Reds host a Southend United side who trail them by four points but who still have designs on the play-offs.

But after back-to-back wins over Coventry City and Walsall, Barnsley go into today’s game in high spirits.

“It’ll be a tough game and it has been down through the years when I’ve played them,” said Hourihane. “They always make it difficult for you to play, they’re on a decent run but have been a little inconsistent.

“We’ve had a couple of those tough games ourselves recently in Walsall and Coventry but we’ve come through on the right side of those games.

“We’ll be looking for the same sort of result against Southend, who are a hard-working side but we’ll be looking to pick up the right result.

“I know a couple of their players but I was injured when we played them at Roots Hall but Phil Brown has a tough set of lads and we need to be on our game.

“I used to play with Will Atkinson at Plymouth while I know Cian Bolger, the centre-half, through the Irish setup. They’re good, honest lads and they will still be trying to get one over on us.”