The Reds did not win any of Daniel Stendel’s last ten matches before caretaker Murray drew with Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion then lost at Huddersfield Town on Saturday. Murray said: “A win pushes us to the next level and gives us the extra bit of energy and positivity that everyone probably needs. We don’t have a magic wand and we can’t just click our fingers and then three points are there for us. Technically and tactically we have shown we can compete but, mentally, the win is the real turning point to take the next step.”
The Reds are winless in their last six games at Oakwell, losing to Luton Town, Leeds United and Brentford while drawing with Charlton Athletic, Derby County and Swansea. Murray is hoping for a strong backing from the supporters like in his only previous home game, the 1-1 draw with Swansea.
He said: “The fans are incredible and our driving force. I expect nothing less in this game. The game against Swansea was an emotional experience for everyone because of the way the game went. Bristol will be no different and I am expecting the fans to come out in force.
“The one thing I love about this football club is the unbelievable bond between players, staff and fans. I don’t see that changing. We all get frustrated about not winning and picking up points, but togetherness is our greatest strength. If we don’t win football matches, everybody is going to be downhearted but, at the same time, we’re all on same page. The fans will understand that they are not going to get a better group of players in terms of the pride in the shirt and the effort they put in.”
Bristol City are currently sixth in the Championship table, three points off the lead and two clear of 11th in a very tight top half. Murray said: “If they win they go joint top. We have played top and bottom teams and every game is a real challenge. I would back us against anyone at home. Bristol City have certain strengths and weaknesses but we look at ourselves. They have been competitive, and they are probably looking at the next step in their journey.”
The Robins lost their first game of the season 3-1 at home to Leeds but then went on a ten-match unbeaten run which lasted more than two months. They were beaten 3-0 at Luton Town last week then won at home to Charlton Athletic and drew 2-2 at home to Wigan Athletic on Sunday, missing the chance to go second.
No Championship side has scored more away goals this season than the 12 netted by the Robins who were unbeaten away from home this season in six matches, with three wins, until their recent trip to Luton. City are managed by Lee Johnson who was in charge of Barnsley for 51 games in slightly less than a year between February 2015 and February 2016.
He will not be in the dugout tonight as he has accepted a one-game ban for an incident in a recent match at Luton, so assistants Jamie McAllister and Dean Holden will take charge of the team from the sidelines. Johnson is yet to win in any of his three visits to Oakwell as the away manager, drawing twice with the Robins after earlier losing when Oldham Athletic boss.
He has several ex-Reds in his squad. Midfielder Josh Brownhill played for Johnson at Barnsley, on loan from Preston North End, then signed for Bristol City two days after helping the Reds win the 2016 League One play-off final. He has started every league game so far this season, scoring twice.
Another member of that promotion side, Marley Watkins – who scored 18 goals in 87 games for the Reds – has made just one substitute appearance for City this season. The Wales winger – who scored for Barnsley against Bristol City in 2016 – is expected to be on the bench tonight.
Another former Reds loanee, Jack Hunt, had played the first 12 games until picking up a hamstring injury which is set to keep him out tonight. Korey Smith, who also spent time on loan at Oakwell, has not played since a serious injury in April and has only just returned to training.
Barnsley’s top-scorer Cauley Woodrow spent the 2017/18 season at Bristol City under Johnson when on loan from Fulham. He scored twice in 14 league appearances, only three of which were starts.
The Reds have only won two of their 17 games against Bristol City since 2007, while they are winless in the last seven meetings. The last 14 games have brought 64 goals from the two teams combined. The Robins have not won in their last four visits to Oakwell, with three consecutive 2-2 draws following a 1-0 loss in 2012 in which Jacob Mellis scored before Bobby Hassell was sent off. The most recent meeting was in March last year when Brownhill scored an injury-time equaliser.