IN terms of the League One automatic promotion race, Barnsley are the hunted as opposed to the hunter.
With that comes a certain amount of pressure but watching last weekend’s showcase Checkatrade Trophy final between Sunderland and Portsmouth, assistant Dale Tonge saw 85,000 reasons why both of the Reds’ top-two rivals must also cope with fervent expectation levels.
A competition record crowd of 85,021 converged at Wembley in a reminder of happier times for two ‘sleeping giants’ in the Wearsiders and Pompey – and whetted their collective appetite for more high-profile occasions.
Both are chasing a Barnsley side who have plenty of work to do to hold onto second place, starting in today’s thorny assignment at Burton.
Tonge insists the pressure is shared with both rival teams, who meet at the Stadium of Light in exactly three weeks’ time.
He said: “You saw the game at the weekend with the amount of fans that they actually had at Wembley, which was outstanding for two League One clubs and a record.
They are under massive pressure as their only aim is promotion. I think they would have both wanted automatic at the beginning of the season and, more than likely, one of them will not get that.Dale Tonge
“They are two massive clubs and I think we are all in agreement that, in theory, they should not be at this level.
“But, at the same time, they are under massive pressure as their only aim is promotion. I think they would have both wanted automatic at the beginning of the season and, more than likely, one of them will not get that.
“Hopefully, it is both and we are the ones who gets in that promotion spot.”
Barnsley’s concession of two points in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Coventry City may have been the perfect eve-of-final tonic for both rivals but in terms of performance levels, Tonge believes that the Reds’ fifth draw in eight matches could yet prove a big moment in the context of Barnsley’s run-in.
He said: “The players are focused on enjoying their football and I think that was more evident last weekend.
“I think it was the best we have played for a good month and most (chances) we have created and we looked like we were going to score with a lot of opportunities.
“It is a case of being ruthless in both boxes now.”
Barnsley face a Burton side who frustrated them in a 0-0 draw at Oakwell in February, with Albion having only lost once in their last six games with the Reds.
That occurred in Barnsley’s last visit to the Pirelli Stadium in October 2017 when the visitors triumphed 4-2.