COVENTRY CITY manager Mark Robins – a perceptive and shrewd individual wise to the dangers of loose talk – is not the sort of person to fall into the trap of upsetting a former club on the eve of a big game.
But Barnsley assistant coach Dale Tonge, who knows the ex-Barnsley, Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town manager better than most, realises full well what victory would mean to Robins at Oakwell tomorrow.
The fixture sees Robins’s play-off chasing Sky Blues visit Barnsley, with the Midlands club attempting to become the first League One side to do the double over them this term.
Robins’s time at Oakwell famously ended under a cloud in May 2011 when he resigned three days after being placed on a 12-month notice period.
The former Rotherham chief had been considering his position after a disagreement over the club’s budget.
Plenty of water has gone under the bridge since, but not all memories can be erased.
Tonge, signed by Robins at Rotherham in May 2007 after leaving Barnsley, said: “I think a lot of people try and put things down a little bit, but it is nonsense. He will come and be wanting to win – not just as it is Coventry, but because he left in probably not the way he liked.
“He will be wanting to get one up on us, 100 per cent.
“I know Mark personally and he coached me as a player and I know what he is like and I know his character and how he will be addressing his players.
“He will know it is a massive opportunity for them to get a big scalp and increase their play-off chances at the same time.”
Almost 12 months on from suffering a painful defeat at the hands of another former manager in the 2017-18 run-in last season – when they lost out to a Leeds United side led by Paul Heckingbottom in April – Barnsley will not be countenancing another.
Their two main automatic promotion rivals Portsmouth and Sunderland are otherwise engaged in the Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley this weekend, and a glance at the Sunday morning papers would not make for entirely pleasant breakfast reading for either should Barnsley win tomorrow.
Victory would increase the second-placed Reds’ lead over third-placed Pompey to seven points, having played a game more.
The fourth-placed Wearsider club would be eight in arrears of Barnsley – albeit with three games in hand – should head coach Daniel Stendel’s side prevail, with the Reds conscious of the need to ramp up the pressure.
Tonge said: “The bigger the gap we can get before those two play again, the better.
“It is only going to add pressure, whether that be psychological in actually looking at the table or the pressure in having to win every game.
“It can only be a benefit to us, if we do our job.”
Grinding it out may have been Barnsley’s modus operandi in recent times, but Tonge is making no apologies for substance pervading over style in the campaign’s business end.
It is the time of season when results are the priority and while the goals may have comparatively dried up for the Reds, who have failed to score in four of their last seven outings, a run of seven successive clean sheets amid a 19-match unbeaten league run has provided ample succour.
Tonge, wholly aware that a win tomorrow would see Barnsley shoot past the 80-point milestone with six games of the season still to go, added: “In an ideal world, you want the football, goals and everything.
“But at the same time, those performances like at Walsall – especially one with a last-minute winner – can be a catalyst for the last seven games. It could kick the boys on.
“We know we were not at our best last weekend, but we understand that three points is what ultimately counts.”