POYA Asbaghi says his depleted Barnsley squad must be ready for ‘a battle’ against a ‘really direct’ Birmingham City side today.

The Reds are due to visit St Andrew’s then Nottingham Forest on Tuesday at the start of a schedule of 14 games in eight weeks before the March international break.

They are eight points from safety and slipped to the bottom of the Championship this week, below Derby County who were deducted 21 points earlier in the campaign.

Barnsley are winless in eight league matches since a 2-1 home win over Derby on November 3, while Asbaghi has not won in any of his six league games.

No side has fewer wins, points or goals in the EFL this season.

Birmingham are 18th in the table, nine points clear of the relegation zone and 14 ahead of Barnsley, following a seven-match winless run. Lee Bowyer’s side drew 1-1 at Preston North End on Saturday then were beaten 6-2 at free-scoring leaders Fulham on Tuesday.

Asbaghi told the Chronicle: “They are a really direct team. If you have Swansea on one end of the Championship for how they like to play, Birmingham are at the other end. They are really good at being direct. They will use set plays, long throw-ins to create momentum and push us down. It’s a battle and a fight that we have to ready and prepared to handle.”

This is due to be Barnsley’s first league match of 2022 after they cancelled two due to Covid-19 cases and injuries last week. Their most recent run-out was a 5-4 extra-time victory over League Two Barrow at Oakwell on January 8 in the FA Cup third round. Asbaghi, who has been down to 14 first team players this week due to Covid cases and injuries, said: “With the amount of players we have now, this schedule will be tough.

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“But I am hopeful we will have more players in the squad sooner rather than later. We know about our situation in the table but it’s important to focus only on us and take it game by game.”

On being last, Asbaghi said: “We’re not focusing on that.

“We don’t think about if we’re last or second-last or third-last, we want to develop and try to win the next game.

“If we keep doing that, in a few weeks, the table will look better.

“The situation in the table is that a lot of teams have played a different amount of games so it is not a clear picture.”

Despite being low on numbers, Poya is pleased with what he has seen in training. He said: “Our week has been incredible in terms of the players’ mentality and spirit. We have now got used to it (low numbers) and accepted it. The players we have in training are doing a really good job. Sometimes we have had ten, sometimes 14 or 15. It can affect the competitive level. But you cannot ask more from them in terms of effort.”

The Reds have not won away this season, drawing four and losing eight, including seven losses in their last eight.

If they do not win at St Andrew’s it will be the longest wait for a first away win of a season since 1975/76.

It is the longest winless away league run at any point since a 16-match sequence in the 2007/08 season.

The only other side in the EFL not to win away this season are Barnsley’s near neighbours Doncaster Rovers.

Barnsley have made the most tackles in the division and Birmingham the second most. The Blues have the made most fouls and the fewest passes of any Championship side this season.

Former Barnsley captain Marc Roberts, from Penistone, has played all but two of City’s games this season while ex-Reds loanee Gary Gardner has made 17 appearances.

Gardner scored his third goal of the season at Fulham in midweek after Roberts had scored an own goal.

Birmingham drew 1-1 at Oakwell in August with Callum Styles scoring a spectacular early opener before Lukas Jutkiewicz levelled, then the visitors missed a series of chances.

This will be the 87th meeting of the clubs, with Barnsley losing 39 and winning 26. The Reds have won on four of their last six visits to St Andrew’s including last season when they came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to a Cauley Woodrow penalty and Styles’ winner.