THE SIGHT of his former club Fulham getting promoted at Wembley last May in the self-styled ‘richest game in football’ was a bittersweet one for Cauley Woodrow.
While elated for his team-mates following their 1-0 success in the Championship play-off final against Aston Villa the Barnsley striker was also entitled to think ‘if only’.
Sent out on loan to the Cottagers’ second-tier rivals Bristol City in a frustrating 2017-18 season cut short by injury, Woodrow is now happy to be taking centre stage in the promotion stakes at Oakwell.
Former Prime Minister and iconic Yorkshireman Harold Wilson’s famous maxim that a week is a long time in politics will ring true in the sporting realm for second-placed Reds over the coming days.
Should they follow up Saturday’s victory over Accrington with another three points in this evening’s ‘six-pointer’ with the side just below them in the table in Sunderland – and then provide gloss at the expense of Doncaster Rovers with a derby win on Friday – Barnsley would be in a position of immense strength heading into the run-in.
Plenty of hard work is in store before then, but motivation is not difficult to come by in the likes of Woodrow or his Reds team-mates who suffered the bitter pill of relegation last term.
Fourteen-goal Woodrow, who has assumed extra goalscoring responsibility with strike partner Kieffer Moore out of action until next season, said: “It (promotion) would be massive for me.
“A lot of players can go throughout their careers without winning anything or getting promoted. We are in a strong position now and getting promoted with Barnsley is something I would love to do in my first season here.
“It would be a massive achievement for me and the club and everyone. I would be delighted.
“I was out on loan last season and when they (Fulham) got promoted I was not there. But I was pleased for the lads who got promoted and played with a lot of them over the years and saw what it meant to them.
“I would love to get that feeling which they got.
“It is a big week for us. It (Sunderland) is a massive game, second versus third. Saturday was important that we have got a win and Friday is another massive game at Doncaster on the TV.
“If we take a win into Friday we will be in a very strong position.”
Interest in this evening’s encounter has been shown far and wide with Reds assistant head coach Dale Tonge revealing that the club have received fan mail from a supporter in the Midwestern US state of Wisconsin, some 3,800 miles away.
A bumper season’s best crowd of around 18,000 is expected -–with 4,500 from Wearside – with Tonge urging the Reds’ youthful crop to seize the moment on what has the tantalising potential to be a milestone night for the hosts.
If Barnsley avoid defeat it will ensure they will go a year without suffering a home loss with the club’s unbeaten league sequence at Oakwell currently stretching back 22 games.
Tonge insists that the Reds are not paying too much attention to that particular sequence although they fully recognise that it has psychological benefits.
He said: “It is something we are proud of. It is not something we are paying massive attention to, but we know it is important from a psychological point of view if there are teams who come here and are thinking, ‘well, they are really hard to beat’. You might actually have one up already.
“We are not massively looking into it, but if the opposition are, then great.”
It is a night where incentives are not hard to come by.
A Barnsley win would increase their advantage over their rivals to seven points albeit having played a game more.
Conversely an away triumph would cut the gap to a solitary point with Sunderland also having a game in hand.
Memories of a 4-2 reverse at the Stadium of Light in November, when Barnsley paid the price for a dereliction of defensive duty in an opening half-hour that saw them trail 3-0, is also likely to provide a motivational tool for head coach Daniel Stendel’s side, who have lost just one league game since.
Tonge added: “I think we can definitely use it as motivation. We understand they are a massive club in this league and with the fans they have got, at home especially, once they get on a roll they are really hard to beat.
“We are equally trying to do the same here with possibly 17,000 or 18,000 here. It is something we are going to draw on.
“We now have two massive games in their own right and as a young player, especially, they are something you should relish.
“You are not always going to be fighting at the top in your career. When you are, embrace it and look forward to the challenge.”
Last six games: Barnsley WWDDWW Sunderland DWWWWD.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).
Last time: Barnsley 3 Sunderland 0; August 26, 2017; Championship.