BARNSLEY know they will need the ‘perfect game’ to stun Paul Heckingbottom’s promotion-chasing Sheffield United tomorrow and continue their impressive recent form.
The Reds are 22nd in the table, two points off safety, while Blades are ninth but just a point off the play-offs, ahead of the derby at Bramall Lane from 12.30pm.
Barnsley drew with leaders Fulham 1-1 on Saturday then beat Bristol City 2-0 on Tuesday, both at home, and have collected half of their 28 points in the last eight games. After tomorrow’s derby, and a two-week international break, they complete their season with eight more games in April and May.
Barnsley’s top-scorer Carlton Morris came off on Tuesday with a tight calf.
He was due to train today then be assessed, but the Reds are hopeful he can start at Bramall Lane.
United are managed by former Reds player and head coach Heckingbottom, from Royston.
Only Middlesbrough have collected more points since he took over in late November, but they lost 4-1 at Coventry on Saturday then drew 0-0 at Blackpool on Wednesday. They also have former Barnsley players Adam Davies, Conor Hourihane and Oli McBurnie, although the latter is one of 11 players who are sidelined or doubts with injuries.
Assistant manager Ferran Sibila said on Heckingbottom: “I will not lie, I don’t know him deeply. I know him from the analysis we have done on Sheffield United this season. Luckily Sheffield is close to Barnsley so we have watched games often. We hope we recognise the way he wants to play and we can put the game in our favour instead.
“They are a team that wants to dominate and control the games. We expect they will try to dominate us.
“We watched the game in Blackpool. They have a good team who has different strengths in and out of possession.
“We will have to do a perfect performance. Number 27 (Morgan Gibbs-White) is a very big threat between the lines. Everybody knows this.”
Sibila and head coach Poya Asbaghi experienced derbies in Sweden with IFK Gothenburg. Sibila said: “If we get too much emotions, that can destabilise us. We need to be balanced. We need to take it like a normal game. You need to play with emotions and excitement but you need to control it with your brain and make the right decisions.”
Barnsley were nine points adrift in February, following a seven-match losing run. But they will climb out of the relegation zone tomorrow if they win and Reading do not beat Blackburn.
Sibila said the recent form is a result of their hard work during the poor run, adding: “Every day you prepare to achieve excellence.
“We looked at every detail. When you do that and everyone wants to do that, what has happened recently is not a big surprise. We just work hard.
“We were calm, just focused on game by game and training by training.
“Now nothing has changed.
“We just keep doing the same.
“You never know in football, things change fast. The team was working well when we didn’t have the results.
“This gave us belief something could happen, and now it is happening.”
Meanwhile, head coach Asbaghi says survival this season would be the biggest achievement of his career.
He said: “I have been in a similar situation when I was young in Sweden in the second tier. Winning a cup was big in Sweden but, with this challenge here, it will be the highest. To come to a new country with a new league in the middle of the season with the situation we had in January with only nine or ten players. To sit here a month later with these performances recently pleases me a lot but all we have done is give ourselves a chance. I am happy if, in the last rounds of the season, we are still in it and have some kind of control.
“It is a situation no one would maybe expect one or two months ago.”
Barnsley host Reading who are currently fourth-bottom, on April 2. Asbaghi said: “If we play against Reading after the break and it is two teams close to each other, we can say we are happy.
“It’s about that at the moment.”
Tomorrow’s derby will be Barnsley’s fifth game in 15 days, but Sibila says fatigue is not a major issue.
“It’s a collective and inside that there are individual needs. Some players will be more fresh than others. We are a really young team and they can recover faster. That is in our favour. We have one more game then the international break.
“We are in a good mood and we enjoy it, which means things are better.”
United played on Wednesday so will have less time to prepare for the lunchtime kick-off. Sibila said: “Scientifically they have enough days to recover.
“The science says you can recover in two days. But maybe there is a small percentage which is good for us.”
The Reds have won just one away game this season, but are unbeaten in five at home. Sibila said: “Playing at home with our supporters helps a lot.
“Away we know it’s different but we should try to have the same mentality and emotion away as we have at home.
“We have to have the expectation like it is our home ground and, from there, have a good performance.”