Barnsley v Sheffield United: Blades are confident of passing derby tests says Harris

AS a lifelong fan of Glasgow Rangers, Bob Harris knows a thing or two about derby football.

Sam Winnall

While the passion, fervour and “electric” atmosphere that makes the Old Firm rivalry one of the fiercest in world football might not be quite on a par with the double-header of local games the Sheffield United left-back is preparing for this Easter, he remains adamant that today’s trip to in-form Barnsley and Tuesday’s home game with Doncaster Rovers are huge affairs due to just how much is at stake.

“I do enjoy the atmosphere of derbies,” said Harris to The Yorkshire Post amid a play-off scrap that includes all four of League One’s Yorkshire clubs.

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“They are always more lively than normal games. I am a Rangers fan and so I have been to watch a lot of the ‘Old Firm’ games. They are electric.

“But we also have got a good support here and there will be a big crowd (at Oakwell). Barnsley brought a good crowd to Bramall Lane earlier in the season and I am told we are taking 5,000 fans.

“Hopefully, we can give them something to be positive and happy about.”

On the whole, United have enjoyed a decent season. Reaching the Capital One Cup semi-final and then running Tottenham Hotspur so close was something that supporters will be able to treasure for years to come.

Fifth place in League One is also not something to be dismissed lightly, even if there have been quite a few stumbles – particularly at the Lane – along the way.

November’s defeat to Barnsley was one such disappointment, coming as it did when the Reds were entrenched in the lower half of the table.

The boos rang out in the wake of that 1-0 defeat, just as they did last weekend when struggling Crewe Alexandra became the sixth club to leave S2 with all three points this term.

Adding to the frustration of the locals was the impressive manner of United’s display just a few days earlier, when Scunthorpe United had been dismissed 4-0.

“I understand where certain people are coming from because we should be winning games like Crewe at home,” said Harris.

“But we have still gone into Easter five points ahead (of seventh placed Rochdale) with seven games to go. It is well in our own hands.”

Crucial to United remaining in charge of their own destiny is the double-header against their south Yorkshire brethren.

With Barnsley and Doncaster needing the points to make up ground on Clough’s men, chances are that both games will be open affairs.

As has been proved countless times already this season, that tends to help the Blades, whose defeats at home have largely come against visiting sides intent on getting men behind the ball.

“With Barnsley and then Doncaster on Tuesday,” said the left-back, “both teams are trying to catch us so they will have to have a go.

“Crewe came here and sat behind the ball, which was fair enough. But, with the attacking players there are here, if we can shut the opposition out, then we will always back ourselves.”

Barnsley have enjoyed a remarkable six weeks, a nine-game unbeaten run having taken the Oakwell outfit from sixth bottom to within a place or two of the play-offs.

United embarked on a similar rise up the League One table a year ago, as what had seemed like being a relegation fight in early February was transformed into a seventh-place finish come May.

It means Harris, who joined the Blades on loan from Blackpool in January last year before later making the move permanent, knows exactly how the Barnsley players will be feeling right now on the back of such an impressive run of form.

“When you are on a run like we were last season,” he said, “you just go into the games thinking you are going to win.

“You get that winning mentality. When we went in front, we just felt like teams weren’t going to score against us.

“Lee (Johnson) has done well there and they are on a good run. But we are confident we can get the three points.

“The gaffer has told us that if we can win the next two, then it is going to be difficult for the rest to catch us.

“There are seven games left. So, if we can make it an eight-point gap with 18 (points) left to play for then that is a big gap.

“We go into every game wanting to win. People are saying that if we don’t lose it will be a positive result as well. But we don’t go into any game wanting to draw.

“A big thing is that we have got to play teams fighting for their lives during the run in and teams who have got a chance of the play-offs. So, everyone here realises it is not going to be easy and we will have to earn the points.”