Barnsley are hoping to end a spell of almost 300 days in the Championship relegation zone during a season-defining eight-day spell which sees them face three of their immediate rivals in the dramatic scrap for survival.
The Reds have been in the bottom three since a 2-0 loss at home to Leeds United on September 15, 292 days ago. After a 0-0 draw with Millwall then a 2-0 win against Blackburn Rovers in home games this week, Gerhard Struber’s side are second-bottom. They now face the three teams who have spent most of the season alongside them in the bottom four. The Reds visit third-bottom Stoke City tomorrow from 3pm and last-placed Luton Town on Tuesday at 6pm before hosting Wigan Athletic on July 11, who are 14th but entered administration this week and face a 12-point deduction which would put them bottom and move the Reds up to 22nd and two points off safety.
Head coach Gerhard Struber said: “The last three games give everyone the right conviction and we know it is the right time to climb out of the relegation zone. It is our big goal which is a power source for everyone. But the only time I will really care about the table is after the last game. Until then we focus on the next game every time. I am 100 per cent convinced that, at the end of the season, we will be in the right place.
"I took over a team in November without faith and without hope. Everyone wished for a situation like this and we have worked so hard to get into this situation. It is our duty to work as hard as we can in the next six games. We are doing a very good job and we have a very good spirit in the team. The players’ work is outstanding at the moment.”
Wigan will be deducted 12 points at the end of this season, should they finish outside the bottom three which looks likely as they are the form team in the league. Struber told the Chronicle: “When we are thinking about other clubs, it is not helpful for us. We need, minimum, three victories. This is our goal. The situation is no different after the news on Wednesday about Wigan.”
He added: “For every club, Covid is a big financial topic. It is also not easy for Barnsley. When I read about 7,000 season tickets sold for Barnsley, this is a very very good answer to help the club. It is good that our supporters go side by side with us in a difficult situation. We have a difficult future but we have a future and I hope it is in the Championship.”
Barnsley, as a town, has one of the highest infection rates of Covid-19 in the country. Asked if that could stop the Reds’ season or make them play home games elsewhere, Struber said: “We have no concerns at the moment. I hope we can play until the last game and finish the season in the right way. It is not in my hands. I know there are high numbers in Barnsley but I hope this has no influence. We hope we can play all our games in Oakwell, playing anywhere else is not something that we have spoken about.”
Tomorrow’s hosts Stoke have picked up one point from their three games since the re-start which left them in the relegation zone, before Wigan's penalty is applied. The Potters were in the Premier League two years ago and are one of the Championship’s biggest-payers.
Struber said: “We know about the money in Stoke. It is a completely different strategy and philosophy to Barnsley. But this situation shows that not only money is helpful, it is more about what spirit a team has and how the players work with each other. Maybe this is an advantage for us but we know that Stoke have massive players in their squad. We have to show a very good performance and then it will be very very difficult for Stoke. If we have the right plan, it might be difficult for this big team to play against a young hungry team.”
He added: “I have never experienced a week like this in my career. “But sometimes it is good when you have no experience of something because you go into the games very hungry and work very hard.”
After the next three games, Barnsley are due to visit current leaders Leeds United on July 15, host Nottingham Forest on July 18 then conclude their season at Brentford on July 22.