LAST summer, it is fair to say that you would have got long odds on Barnsley being above today’s opponents at the start of March.
That Barnsley deserve to be ahead of last season’s play-off semi-finalists is indisputable, with the Reds seeking this afternoon to record their first double over their East Midlands opponents since 1983-84.
The trip to Pride Park precedes an away game at QPR – a side who the Reds have not beaten twice in a season since 1949-50 – and while the play-offs represent a long shot for Barnsley, head coach Paul Heckingbottom says that the incentives are considerable for his side.
A highest finish since the play-off season of 1999-2000 beckons, but it is the maintenance of high standards and his side’s continued evolution after losing some key players in January that interests Heckingbottom more than statistics.
Among other things, that should also help in selling Barnsley to future recruits, something not lost upon Heckingbottom as he strives effectively to build a new team following the exits of the likes of Conor Hourihane, James Bree and Sam Winnall, with further departures potentially happening in the summer.
He said: “If we were selling our club now to a player we wanted to come, the group of players they would be coming into are young, hungry with lots of quality.
“You can also say we are a good platform as we don’t carry a big squad and, if you perform, you are playing and have the opportunity to go onto bigger things.
“It is also about how we develop players, who maybe have not been household names, but who we have hopefully improved.
“That is how we would sell the club right now. If we do finish the season really strong and we get around the play-offs, that is another selling point.”
To help further in that recruitment process, a replication of the outstanding early-season Oakwell performances against the Rams and Rangers would certainly impress any prospective new signings.
Heckingbottom continued: “We showed what we were about in two different ways.
“We worked our socks off against Derby and kept a clean sheet and won 2-0 and we managed to restrict them and prove a real threat, which was pleasing.
“Against QPR, I thought we were outstanding from start to finish and dominated and yet only won 3-2 and it was a late winner.”