Luca Connell and Barnsley FC aim to time their run to perfection during key League One promotion run-in

PROMOTION is often about timing your run to perfection.

It is something that Barnsley and their fellow high-flying rivals are entitled to be conscious of amid a race for the Championship which is still fairly difficult to predict, even if leaders Portsmouth have made an early run for home.

From a personal perspective, timing is also everything for a key cog in the Reds machine in Luca Connell.

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After experiencing the pain of Barnsley's heart-breaking play-off final miss at the end of spring, summer proved even more mentally challenging for the Liverpudlian, who was laid low by a mystery illness was subsequently diagnosed as post-viral fatigue after a fair bit of testing.

Barnsley midfielder Luca Connell in action against Carlisle United last month. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.Barnsley midfielder Luca Connell in action against Carlisle United last month. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Barnsley midfielder Luca Connell in action against Carlisle United last month. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Throughout late summer and for much of the first half of the autumn, the former Bolton and Celtic player was laid up on his couch before his condition gradually started to improve and he could start to rehabilitate.

He was eased back into the fray in the final few months of 2023, with a view to him being able to be in pristine condition and hopefully form for when it matters - the run-in.

Connell, who named in last season's PFA League One Team of the Year following a huge debut season at Oakwell in 2022-23, said: "That's what the gaffer, physios and fitness coaches stressed to me when I first came back.

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"'Don't look for the earliest game, make sure you are ready going into the back end of the season, properly.'

"Hopefully, the illnesses and niggles are past now and I can just crack on."

Those bitter late events at the end of May against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley will only truly heal if Barnsley get over the line at the end of the current season.

Connell, who missed a key chance when the game was deadlocked, certainly needs no motivation in that regard.

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While the Reds are currently positioned in the play-off positions, just as they were this time 12 months ago when Michael Duff was at the helm, finishing into the top two is still within their remit as it was this time last year.

Being promoted via the conventional route and avoiding the play-off lottery remains a big aim. Should Barnsley beat next opponents Derby on Saturday, they will claim a psychological boost in their quest to do that.

Neill Collins’ side are certainly in strong form. They have lost just once at league level since being beaten 3-0 in the reverse league fixture against the Rams back on November 11.

Connell continued: "Anyone at the start of the season would have bitten your hands off for the play-offs, so we're got to be happy we are in there.

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"But we want to make sure that play-offs is the least that we are going to get.

"We are going for the automatics and want to get as many points as we can and push up the table. If it is a trip to Wembley, we want to put that right.

"It's very tight. There's six or maybe seven teams. If you’re playing two or three games a week, it can change very quickly.”