MICHAEL Duff believes today's hosts Oxford United could still join Barnsley in the promotion race this season despite a slow start.
The Us are 14th in the League One table, eight points behind the fourth-placed Reds.
Oxford are unbeaten in nine in all competitions, winning four and drawing five, having moved up the table after collecting just 11 points from the first 11 games which left them 20th.
They drew 1-1 at Accrington Stanley on Saturday, conceding a late leveller.
Karl Robinson’s side have won just three of their last 13 league games.
Oxford lost the 2020 play-off final to Wycombe then were beaten in the semi-final by Blackpool the following year before finishing eighth last season with 76 points.
Head coach Duff told the Chronicle: “They are six points off the play-offs and, if they beat us, it could be three, with 26 games to go.
“The fact they are unbeaten in nine shows you they are a good team.
“They will 100 per cent believe they can still get in the play-offs.
“They have a squad capable of that and a manager who can get them there.”
He added: “They are one of the better teams in the league.
“History tells you that and so does their recent run.
“They had a poor start but they have steadied the ship and are starting to come out of it.
“Everyone knows Karl’s teams – they will be expansive, forward-thinking and keep the ball.
“They have got some really good players like Matty Taylor and (Cameron) Brannagan.”
Barnsley have won five of their last seven away games in the league.
Only Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday have more points away from home than Barnsley’s 17 from ten games.
Duff said: “The away support has been magnificent. It’s a nice feeling when the game ends and you win and the only people you can hear in the crowd are the away fans. It’s another long trek on Saturday but hopefully we can give them another good performance.”
The Us lost four successive home games in September and October but are now unbeaten in four there with 1-1 draws against Fleetwood and Forest Green as well as a 4-0 win over Port Vale and a 4-1 victory over Exeter in the FA Cup last week.
Oxford boss Robinson is the fifth longest-serving manager in the EFL, having been in charge for almost five years.
His MK Dons did the double over the Reds in 2014/15 while Duff’s Cheltenham took four points off his Oxford side last season.
The two clubs have met 25 times with Barnsley winning 12 and losing seven.
The only meetings this century were the 2016 EFL Trophy final in which Barnsley beat Oxford 3-2 at Wembley, the 4-0 Reds win at Oakwell on the opening day of the 2018/19 League One season then the 2-2 draw at the Kassam Stadium the following January.
That last contest was Barnsley’s only ever visit to that stadium, while they have only won two of 12 trips to Oxford and none in five since a 1-0 success at the Manor Ground in 1991 with Neil Redfearn getting the goal.
The match is due to finish just before 5pm, with England’s World Cup quarter-final against France due to kick off at 7pm.
Duff said: “I only live 45 minutes from Oxford so I will be going home for the game. The players will watch it on the bus.”