Barnsley v Swansea City - Proud Reds flying the flag for underdogs

BARNSLEY’S beguiling story in 2020-21 will provide hope and belief for rival clubs in the years ahead, according to head coach Valerien Ismael.

The Reds will be backed by 4,528 fans in their play-off semi-final first leg with Swansea City this evening – as Oakwell stages a game in front of spectators for the first time in over 14 months.

Sporting venues across England are now able to welcome back some supporters following a further easing of restrictions by the Government as part of its coronavirus recovery road map.

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Barnsley are aiming to emulate the feats of fellow Yorkshire sides Huddersfield Town (2016-17) and Hull City (2007-08), who both achieved promotion via the play-offs, just one season after they were struggling at the opposite end of the Championship table.

Come on you Reds: Head coach Valerien Ismael. Picture: Tony Johnson

There has also been no shortage of goodwill towards the Oakwell club from followers of other White Rose sides ahead of their play-off campaign, with many football fans across the country also likely to be backing the Reds – the competition underdogs in the view of Ismael – tonight.

He said: “Our story shows that everything is possible in football and this is what we want to see. The emotional connection with the fans and the connection with history and a unique story.

“We want to see some teams with maybe less of a chance and younger teams in the league who are capable of competing at that level and we deserve to be in the play-offs. That is a great feeling.

“We have made our fans proud and we have reached out to other fans in Yorkshire. It is another example to give hope and belief in football and make something magical with our performance.

“We have a lot of examples to follow to show that the play-offs is a new competition. Something can happen and it is 50-50. Even when we are the underdog, we have a chance.”

Ismael himself takes inspiration from some decorated moments in his own playing career, when he was part of some special achievements at provincial clubs, most notably at Werder Bremen, who won the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal in 2003-04 when he was a player there.

He continued: “In some situations with Strasbourg and Lens and at Werder Bremen when we won the title, it was the same. We can compare the situation with Barnsley and the expectation was more with others.

“At the end of the season, we stayed near the top of the table and it was not the expectation. Now we have extended our season with at least two games and it is a great feeling to achieve this.

“We need to continue to show our great mentality.

“When you have clarity in your message and know the way you want to be, it will be easier to have success as the player knows what he has to do. You can get everyone on the same page, the belief in our principle and strengths is massive and we have massive confidence with the season we play from a tough season.

“We are really proud of what we have made so far. We will just stay focused on ourselves and not be disturbed by anyone else.”

You have to go back to March 7 of last year – 436 days ago – for the last time that Barnsley played with fans in attendance at Oakwell and Ismael will manage the club for the first time with home supporters present this evening.

It represents a milestone moment for the 45-year-old, who believes that the presence of Reds followers will provide his players with a big psychological uplift.

“The players are really excited about playing in front of a crowd, it’s a reward for all their hard work this season,” Ismael added.

“It is a fantastic story and we want to share the emotion with the fans, it is a chance for them to see the team and give some emotion back. The connection with the fans will push the players further and I will love to see that.

“It is the same feeling when you date your wife for the first time. It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking and I’m grateful for the possibility for everyone to meet each other.

“It is a great feeling to have such a finish at Oakwell this season. To have the fans back in the stadium is fantastic, I have been here for six months without any of that, so I am looking forward to hearing the noise from the crowd.”

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