Craig Hignett has backed Barnsley top-scorer Cauley Woodrow to surpass his efforts of two decades ago and score 20 Championship goals to keep the Reds at that level.
Hignett netted 19 in the 1999/2000 campaign – as well as twice in the play-offs which saw Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett’s side beaten in the final – while Woodrow has 14 with nine matches remaining for a side who are last, seven points from safety. The only player to have netted 15 at that level in the last 20 years is Chris O’Grady in the 2013/14 relegation campaign while Bruce Dyer scored 14 in the two seasons after Hignett left in 2000.
Hignett has watched Woodrow for years and believes he can keep the Reds up. The 50-year-old, who still watches Barnsley’s first team and their under 23s, said: “I know Cauley Woodrow really well as a player. When I was assistant manager at Hartlepool under Colin Cooper (in the 2013/14 season), we tried to bring him on loan from Fulham but he went to Southend. “We watched him a lot and I’ve followed his career ever since.
“He’s a quality player and I am not surprised to see him doing really well. Barnsley have put faith in him, given him a run of games and that’s sometimes all you need. I would think he could get to 20 goals this season. I think they have a player who can score the goals to keep them where they want to be and, if that doesn’t happen, they can make a lot of money off him and try to re-invest that. Barnsley are having a battle to try to stay up but hopefully they can do it. With nine games left, this is where the pressure starts to tell and I don’t think anything will be sorted until the last game when hopefully Barnsley have a chance of staying in the league.”
While the Reds have given Woodrow the chance to play regular Championship football for the first team, after mainly being a substitute with Fulham and Bristol City, they revitalised Hignett’s career. In 1998 John Hendrie brought his old Middlesbrough team-mate, then 28, to Oakwell following a difficult spell with Aberdeen. Hignett said: “I fell in love with football again when I went to Barnsley. I was having a tough time in my personal life when I went to Aberdeen.
“John Hendrie – who is still a very good friend of mine – saved my football career by bringing me to Barnsley. John knew I wasn’t a winger who wanted to just stay out wide, I liked to have a free role and he gave me that. It was a great club and I had some great team-mates and some great times there. “It was everything I needed at the time. I really enjoyed working with both John and Harry.
“You don’t get many times in your career when you go out and you know you are going to score. From the minute I joined to the minute I left, there were no games when I didn’t feel sure I would score. It became normal because I felt so comfortable.”
Hignett’s debut was a 7-1 win over Huddersfield Town in which he scored twice and missed a penalty for a hat-trick. He said: “I had only trained two days before that game. I only missed two penalties in my whole career. It still wrangles with me a little bit 20 years later. But it was an unbelievable debut.”
The following campaign, under Bassett, he scored 21 in all competitions including at Wembley in the 4-2 play-off final defeat to Ipswich Town which he described as ‘devastating.’ That was his last Reds match as he moved to Blackburn Rovers for £2.25million but he has almost come back twice as a coach. He said: “I spoke to Peter Ridsdale about being player/manager when I was at Leicester (2003/04 season) but it never happened.
"Then I had agreed to take over when Dave Flitcroft was caretaker (2013) but he had a great run and got the job permanently. For me it was disappointing because I had an agreement in place but I could see why they did it and Dave is a friend of mine. Things like that happen in football. Barnsley is always a club whose results I look at. I would love to go back at some point because I think I have a lot to offer as a coach.”
Hignett was sacked as manager of National League Hartlepool – for the second time after a spell two years earlier – in October and had been scouting for Sunderland, working for BBC Radio Merseyside and doing some after dinner speaking before the coronavirus crisis. He said: “I love the coaching and managing. I felt hard done to at Hartlepool. We had rebuilt the team with a reduced wagebill and we were four points off a play-off spot with a budget that was less than halfway in the league. But sometimes that is not enough. The hard thing will be getting back in after two spells at Hartlepool, but I have got a lot of experience.”