BARNSLEY manager Keith Hill has thrown down the gauntlet to counterpart Simon Grayson ahead of tomorrow’s Yorkshire derby with Leeds United.
Hill claims the Tykes would win the Championship title this season if a team’s results were based purely on the ability of their manager and unrelated to spending power.
He also admitted that he had ‘no sympathy’ for Leeds manager Grayson who is under pressure to win promotion this season from chairman Ken Bates.
Leeds are currently fifth in the league table – seven points clear of Barnsley whose main priority is Championship survival.
However, the Tykes have beaten Doncaster Rovers and Hull City this month and are now targeting a memorable hat-trick of Yorkshire derby victories.
Hill, who spent four years at Rochdale before landing the Barnsley job last summer, has adjusted quickly to life in the Championship and enjoys ruffling the opposition’s feathers.
His comments yesterday were not intended as a criticism of Grayson but simply underline the strength of his own self-belief.
“Give every manager in the Championship or every respective league the same budget and let’s see who the best team and the best manager is,” said Hill.
“But it’s not like that. It’s unbalanced. There are those who have and those who have not.
“I would like to see what (Arsenal manager) Arsene Wenger suggested a few years ago because he was 100 per cent right. At the beginning of the season, every Championship club should pool their resources and share it equally amongst the teams and the managers. Let’s see who gets promoted and who gets relegated. Let’s do that. I would probably finish top!”
Asked whether Grayson deserved credit for keeping Leeds in play-off contention, Hill said: “I like Simon, I think he is a great manager. But do you want me to feel sorry for Simon Grayson and the money they have got with respect to them trying to pursue getting back into the Premier League?
“Whichever way you look at it, he’s a good manager with a good budget that should give him an opportunity to challenge to get back in the Premier League. Why should I feel sorry for him?”
Since returning to the Championship last season, Leeds have lost a number of key players including Jermaine Beckford, Kasper Schmeichel, Bradley Johnson and Max Gradel.
But Hill feels those losses have been compensated by the signing of quality replacements which include Andy Keogh, Andy Lonergan, Danny Pugh and Darren O’Dea.
“Players he has lost?” said Hill. “Are we talking about the same team here? Players he has recruited, let’s be right. He has recruited players to give himself the opportunity to get back into the Premier League.
“They are an excellent side and, historically, they should be in the Premier League challenging, the way they did under David O’Leary, for a Champions League place. They are an example of how successful you can be but also an example of how quickly that success can be taken away.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow, Hill said: “It’s a big honour to represent Barnsley at Elland Road against Leeds in the Championship but we are not just going there for that honour. We are going there to try and win.
“I always loved playing against Leeds. Quite often, when a team has been so successful, you get bitterness in rivalry. It’s a shame really. It’s probably the same for Manchester United. Everyone goes there with a bitter rivalry to try and beat Manchester United because they have been so successful. I think the same can be said about Leeds.”
Striker Nile Ranger is likely to start on the bench for Barnsley after moving on loan from Newcastle where his career has stalled amid off-the-field problems.
A deal to sign Israeli international Gai Assulin from Manchester City was called off, however, when it emerged the midfielder was suffering from a knee injury.
“It’s something we wanted to do but we are not going to force it through when the player is not 100 per cent fit,” said Hill. “I’m disappointed because I know what type of player he is. If the deal can be done in January it will be.”
While Hill admitted that he would have preferred to strengthen his squad futher before last night’s Football League deadline for emergency signings, he stressed that he had faith in the players at his disposal.
“I couldn’t say I am happy with the depth of the squad but the quality is there and we do have a spirit within the squad because it is quite close knit and everyone realises they have a chance of playing,” he said.
Midfielder Danny Drinkwater, on loan from Manchester United, and former Leeds striker Andy Gray have both completed one-game bans but Hill may be tempted to stick with the side that defeated Doncaster six days ago.
“You would be disappointed if you were left out against Leeds after last week’s performance,” he said. “I won’t upset the applecart but it’s a question of coming up with the right permutation to beat Leeds.”
Tykes midfielder Nathan Doyle has linked up with his former Hull City manager Phil Brown at Preston North End on loan.