SINCE 2006-07, Barnsley have proved the great escapologists of Championship football – no one has played the survival game better than they have.
Their seven seasons back in the second tier may have featured more battles with relegation than their supporters would care to mention, but they have all, in the final analysis, been in winning causes.
But nothing lasts forever and inspection of the increasingly resigned comments from fans on various internet message boards and radio phone-ins of late suggest a growing section of supporters believe the club’s number is finally up.
For his part, Oakwell manager Danny Wilson remains bristling with defiance in his belief the Reds’ latest survival episode still has ‘legs’.
After the 2-0 defeat at Wigan on Tuesday he was most definitely in ‘glass-is-half-full’ mode – just as his predecessor David Flitcroft was throughout the club’s great escape mission of 2012-13.
But this time last year, it is fair to say, supporters possessed more justifiable bravado following a haul of 16 points from a possible 18 which laid the foundations for a successful mission, culminating in the amazing ‘Survival Saturday’ scenes at Huddersfield last May.
Whether the vast majority currently share Wilson’s optimism is a moot point.
He took solace in his side not ‘going under’ after heading in two goals behind at the interval, as any sage manager would ahead of a huge relegation clash with fellow strugglers Millwall on Saturday.
Yet the 2013-14 seasonal numbers do not stack up well. As the well-known saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.
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As it stands, the second-from-bottom Reds are five points adrift of safety heading into their critical weekend assignment with fourth-bottom Millwall.
Their haul of 23 points is the lowest they have mustered after 30 matches of a Championship season since promotion in May 2006 – this time last year they were eight points better off.
The likelihood is that the total of 55 points which it took for Barnsley to ensure survival at Peterborough United’s expense last season will be nothing like the requirement for safety this time around, with a haul in the mid to late forties expected to suffice.
But it still leaves Wilson’s troops with plenty to do and likely to need a similar aggregate to that which they accrued in the final 16 games of 2012-13 – 24 points – if they are to be playing Championship football for a ninth successive campaign in August.
That easily represents the highest total they have managed in the final third of a season since returning to the second tier.
The previous best they managed was 20 points in the last 16 games of the 2008-09 campaign when they finished 20th under Simon Davey.
Back then the Reds’ fate was in the balance until the final day of the season at Plymouth where they triumphed 2-1, with Norwich City consigned to League One.
Wilson is too long in the tooth to make bold predictions, but what he is promising is that Barnsley will be going ‘hell for leather’ on Saturday in their quest to find a catalyst to transform their on-pitch fortunes, which have seen them collect just four wins so far this season.
Wilson said: “There are lots of points to fight for. Because the next game is Millwall doesn’t make it any more important to us.
“The added incentive is we can get in touching distance of them if we win the game.
“We’ll go hell for leather and if we put a performance in like that second half (at Wigan), we won’t be far away.
“We said at half-time we wanted something positive to take into Millwall and we did that and came away with our confidence not battered.
“I think a lot of people felt we could have gone under at 2-0 down at half-time.
“We have been dealt a bit of a blow, that’s for sure, but it’s not confidence-sapping.
“We didn’t (go to Wigan) believing we couldn’t get a good result.
“We felt we could, but when you go 2-0 down to a team of their quality it is difficult to get back into the game.
“But we showed great willingness to do that and in the second half I think they had one shot, in about the 93rd minute.”
When you are deep in relegation trouble, you need all the help you can get with Wilson no doubt praying for positive news regarding top-scorer Chris O’Grady, who came off at the interval on Tuesday after aggravating a rib injury.
Wilson will also assess the fitness of Jack Hunt ahead of this weekend’s ‘six-pointer’ with the ex-Huddersfield Town full-back having missed out at the DW Stadium.
His replacement, young Liverpool defender Ryan McLaughlin, was handed a chastening first-team reintroduction in just his second Reds appearance, with the loanee taken off at the break after toiling against James McClean.
Wilson added: “We had to throw Ryan in at the deep end. It wasn’t ideal in that respect, but it happens. Unfortunately, he was quite ring-rusty.
“It was only his second league game and he’s been out for over a month.
“It was never going to be easy in that respect and we felt it was only right to give him a rest at half-time and shift things around a bit.”