Barnsley v Reading: Carlton Morris ready to get in the ‘zone’ in bid to make difference to Reds’ survival bid

CARLTON MORRIS has previously spoken about how much he relishes the heat of battle when ‘everything is on the line.’ All good leaders do.

For Barnsley’s sake, it is just as well.

Failing to win in this afternoon’s crunch encounter with relegation rivals Reading might not be terminal. But it would not stop many pragmatists from suggesting otherwise.

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If the Reds are to perform another ‘Great Escape’, victory today is highly likely to play its part in the journey.

MAKE IT COUNT: Carlton Morris is determined Barnsley get the right result against relegation rivals Reading Picture: Tony Johnson

They will lean upon good characters and players like top-scorer Morris in their corner.

The tail-end of seasons usually sees Morris fighting for something. Whether it be the play-offs with Barnsley or Shrewsbury or survival with the likes of his current club, York City, MK Dons and Hamilton Academical.

In his time with the Accies, Morris’s match-winning strike at Dens Park in May 2016 ensured that his side secured their Scottish Premiership status after a crucial 1-0 win at Dundee.

Two years later, Morris struck the only goal of the game in one of Shrewsbury’s biggest matches in their history – a League One play-off final second leg with Charlton in front of a sell-out crowd in Shropshire.

Barnsley's Carlton Morris celebrates scoring his first-half penalty against Fulham at Oakwell last month Picture: Tony Johnson

Three-quarters of the Montgomery Waters Stadium erupted after Morris netted his first goal since sending Salop to Wembley in the Checkatrade Trophy final two months earlier.

It further showcased his capacity to come up with the goods when it matters. How Barnsley could do with something special today.

On his best late-season contribution thus far, Morris told The Yorkshire Post: “It is probably the Shrewsbury play-off goal.

“It was just the buzz and the main time in my life where I felt the proper energy flowing through my body and bones when that goal went in. Hopefully, I can see a lot more times like those in my career.

THAT WAS THEN: Carlton Morris (right) in action for Shrewsbury Town, battling for the ball with Rotherham United's Richard Towell during the 2018 League One Final at Wembley Picture: John Walton/PA

“I am craving one of those quieter seasons! But it is obviously good to have something to play for – even though we are fighting at the wrong end.

“It breeds characters. I have a lot to be thankful for in my career and having a lot to play for has made me a lot stronger not just as a professional, but human being.”

A bitter experience after his famous goal for Shrewsbury also toughened him up and provides him with perspective whenever times appear tough.

In the play-off showpiece of 2018 against one of his former loan clubs in Rotherham United, Morris’s world caved in when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament which kept him out for the entire 2018-19 campaign.

Barnsley FC head coach Poya Asbaghi Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The Cambridge-born player commented: “In terms of perspective, this is not ‘worse-case scenario’ and there are worse things you can do (in life).

“But in terms of my career, that injury was a ‘down’. Sometimes, I feel like once you have been through something like that, what worse thing can happen (in football)? It is a blessing sometimes to even be out training every day.”

In terms of leadership, Morris – formidable in terms of physique – is not a ranter or raver. Shortly before 3pm today, don’t expect him to be banging the walls.

He will be in the zone, though. In his build-up, he might even throw a few arrows at a dartboard positioned near the Reds changing rooms, but there will be no lavish walk-on routine to centre stage on the pitch.

There will be no nickname on the back of his jersey either. Although ‘The Power’ would certainly be appropriate.

On his pre-game build-up, Morris said: “I am one of those where it is ‘the calm before the storm’.

“If you saw me before the game, you wouldn’t even think I had a game. I am just in the zone and chilling out.

“I could be in the zone playing darts or chatting and having a laugh, even in the tunnel. When you cross that white line, it is just game time.

“You should never, as a pro, get more excited for some games than others. But sometimes, you just cannot help it, it is just natural. Whether it’s the atmosphere or an important cup game or league game.

“People sometimes go missing, but you have to make a conscious effort sometimes to say: ‘Listen, I am going to be the one who makes a difference.’ We have a lot of lads in the dressing room with that mindset.”

The international break was well timed for Barnsley. After a mini-revival, the final weekend before the hiatus was bruising.

A second-half disintegration at Sheffield United was bad enough. Unfortunately, events elsewhere compounded matters.

After exiting the fray following an early kick-off at Bramall Lane, news of Reading’s victory over play-off chasing Blackburn Rovers rubbed salt into wounds.

A surprise win for a fellow struggler in Peterborough against another top-six aspirant in QPR the next day was another unwelcome development.

A team bonding session over a steak and a few beers in the aftermath of that weekend saw players close ranks and it will hopefully have helped the ‘moving-on’ process.

Reds players certainly must be strong together and watch each other’s backs in the club’s biggest home league match since July 2020 today.

Morris added: “After the Sheffield United game, we had a little team ‘do’ and a steak and a couple of beers and chilled out as a squad.

“Always in my career, every time we have done that as a squad, it brings the team closer as a whole. That bonding is underestimated in terms of how crucial it can be sometimes. Stuff like that can go a long way and have an impact.

“If you are going to fight together, it is better to be fighting with friends than not.

“It is an enjoyable environment to come into every day here and there’s always laughter and fun in the dressing room. I have been at some places where it has been a similar position to this and it’s been a bit toxic at times.

“You do not see any of that here.”