Play-off hopefuls Barnsley are ‘almost there but not there yet’ as they prepare to host relegation-battling Rotherham United who Valerien Ismael says have their ‘last chance’ at Oakwell tomorrow.
After Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Coventry City and Wednesday’s 1-0 win at Huddersfield Town, the Reds are sixth in the Championship, six points clear in the top six ahead of the local derby with third-bottom Rotherham.
They need four more points from their last three games to guarantee a place in the play-offs but could secure a top six finish if they better the result of seventh-placed Reading who host Swansea City on Sunday.
Only the top two have collected more points than Barnsley’s 70 since Ismael was appointed six months ago today while no side has more than the Reds’ 38 in 16 games since January.
Seventh-placed Reading have won one of their last eight while they face Swansea and leaders Norwich City in their next two matches.
Ismael told the Chronicle: “We created a new, bigger gap.
“We will just keep going. It is still in our hands and we are in a better position than before Huddersfield.
“We are not over the line, we are almost there but we are not there yet. We keep a big big focus.
“I can’t say if one more win is enough, we have to do our job and make sure we get points.”
He added: “Our fans can dream, that is normal. They suffered a lot last season and the pandemic brought another tough period.
“But my guys have to stay on the ground and focus on the games.”
The Reds now cannot mathematically gain automatic promotion after second-placed Watford beat leaders Norwich City on Tuesday, but they could finish as high as third.
There are just three points between the sides in the play-off places.
Bournemouth have moved up to third due to seven wins in a row since losing at home to Barnsley last month.
Fourth-placed Swansea have collected seven points from their last seven games while fifth-placed Brentford have won four of 14 games starting from their home loss to Barnsley on Valentine’s Day and, although they are unbeaten in seven, five of those have been draws.
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s visitors Rotherham are 22nd, four points from safety. They cannot be relegated at Oakwell tomorrow.
Due to a series of Covid-related postponements, the Millers had four games in hand on most teams around them going into the last international break.
They have to play their last 12 matches of the season in 36 days including last week when they played on Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday then Sunday. Tomorrow’s match at Oakwell is their sixth game in 14 days, with the last four all at home.
They could have gone out of the relegation zone with a win over Coventry last Thursday but lost 1-0, having played 48 hours earlier, then conceded a late goal in another 1-0 defeat to Birmingham City on Sunday.
They then took the lead against Middlesbrough on Wednesday but had a man sent off after 18 minutes then lost 2-1. They have won five of their last nine away games.
Ismael said: “The win in Huddersfield will give us big confidence for Saturday. We have to stay focused because it will be a big fight.
“Rotherham fight to stay in the league and I think Saturday could be their last chance.
“It is a derby and a big game.”
Barnsley striker Carlton Morris had two loan spells at Rotherham from previous club Norwich City. He played eight Championship matches in an injury-plagued spell during the second half of the Millers’ 2016/17 relegation season. He then scored three goals in 21 League One games in the first half of last season.
Former Barnsley captain Angus MacDonald has played almost all Rotherham’s games this season.
He played 54 times for the Reds between 2016 and January 2018 when he moved to Hull City, who the Oakwell club recently were ordered to pay nearly £1million after a tribunal found they failed to disclose MacDonald’s iron deficiency.
Barnsley have won the only three meetings with United in the last 15 years, including a 2-1 success at the New York Stadium on December 29.
Cauley Woodrow and Alex Mowatt put the Reds 2-0 up in 15 minutes before ex-Red Michael Smith replied.
Rotherham have not beaten Barnsley in ten meetings since 1982 when they won 1-0 at Millmoor.
They have not won at Oakwell in 13 attempts since 1970 in the League Cup while their win the previous year was their only league triumph in 16 attempts since 1953.
After tomorrow’s derby, Barnsley are due to complete their season at mid-table Preston North End on May 1 then at home a week later to Norwich.