Why Barnsley FC's next game is their biggest of the season - Leon Wobschall

CAST your minds back to the end of February, just over a month ago.

On February 27, Barnsley passed the ‘magic’ 50-point mark for the season - that traditional barometer for league safety across the EFL - with 14 Championship matches still to go in 2020-21 after a 2-1 home win over Millwall.

If things go particularly well over Easter, the Reds' next significant landmark of seventy points could be deliciously ticked off by the final whistle of their game at Luton Town on Bank Holiday Monday.

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Afford yourself a moment just to take that in. This is no April Fool's Day jest either.

GROUNDED: Barnsley FC head coach Valerien Ismael.

The Oakwell outfit have certainly shown themselves not to be averse at hitting milestones of late, fortified by their stellar recent form. Not too many observers would back against them. It is comfortably within their remit.

With a 'ball-park' figure for participation in the end-of-season lottery widely perceived to be 75 points, two Easter victories would put the Reds within touching distance of the Championship play-offs.

Psychologically, the finishing tape would be in sight with a month of the season still to go.

Just don’t let head coach Valerien Ismael catch you looking too far ahead. Perish the thought.

Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt at the end of the home game against Millwall. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Barnsley have cleared countless hurdles under the redoubtable Frenchman, who is not the sort to dream and will definitely not be looking any further than the Good Friday home game with Reading, as it stands.

But it is a tantalising prospect for Reds followers nevertheless.

Of course, Ismael - who has got little wrong since his arrival at Oakwell, let’s face it - is right to stick to the hackneyed, boring but solid mantra of ‘one game at a time.’ More especially in this instance.

Should fifth-placed Barnsley beat Reading, the side one place and two points behind them and currently occupying the final play-off position, to start their Easter programme, it will be as significant as any victory in the 20-21 season so far and not just because it will represent the next one.

Oakwell, home of Barnsley FC.

By the time both take the field at 5.30pm on Friday, victories for Bournemouth and Cardiff may well have upped the ante for the Reds and Royals.

A win for Bournemouth over Middlesbrough would even push Reading out of the top six by kick-off.

If Ismael’s side hold their nerve, as they did at Bournemouth last month for instance and in also securing come-from-behind wins against Birmingham City, Preston North End, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday in December to first inspire talk of a possible play-off pitch - it will pile the pressure on Reading in particular and put a big target on their backs.

Even allowing for the unpredictability of the Championship, Reading’s run-in arrives with a health warning. Alongside Barnsley, they must also face Watford, Cardiff City, Swansea City and Norwich City in their final eight games.

By contrast, the minefields for Barnsley do not look quite so active.

Granted, their next Oakwell opponents after Reading are Boro on Saturday week. The Teessiders still retain an outside chance of reaching the top six, but a Barnsley win on April 10 could well cook their goose. Ismael will inwardly know that. One less to worry about..

Barnsley’s run-in also features appointments against sides in the relegation picture in Coventry City, Huddersfield and Rotherham United, who are fighting for points for altogether different reasons.

Despite a surprise loss to Sheffield Wednesday last time out, the Reds’ record against sides in the bottom half of the table has been admirably consistent under Ismael. His players, while not being over-confident, will back themselves internally and have every right to.

Refreshed after a two-week international break which came at a timely juncture, Barnsley - jaded in their last outing against Wednesday by their high-octane standards - should have refuelled their tanks with the modern-day equivalent of four-star.

If they require any further inspiration, it might just arrive when they head to Luton on Monday. Many Barnsley players have travelled a fair way since their last visit to Kenilworth Road.

The Reds' Championship journey in 2019-20 famously looked like running out of road after the Reds’ late-season game at the Bedfordshire venue last July. They could only claim a point in a seemingly 'win or bust' meeting at a big relegation rival and it was a result which looked like killing both in their respective survival quests.

With just four games left in that campaign after that draw, the Reds and the Hatters were the division’s bottom two teams and looked nailed on to go down to League One.

The coach trip back up the M1 to Barnsley would have been a long one - only for some strange, rather wonderful events to transpire after that and remind us just why we love football so much even accounting for its many modern-day imperfections.

Barnsley reaching the play-offs a season on from only staving off relegation on a miraculous final evening of the 19-20 season at Brentford's Griffin Park would another be a story and a half. But first things first.

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