BARNSLEY will continue one of their best first halves of a season in decades tomorrow if they beat the side with the worst defensive record in England, but Michael Duff has warned against complacency which ‘burned’ them earlier this season.
The Reds are fourth in League One with 33 points from 19 games, two clear of the teams outside the top six and nine off the top three who have all played two games more. Their fixture at Oxford United on Saturday was called off due to a frozen pitch.
They have won their last four league games and six of the last seven in all competitions while victory tomorrow would give them their highest points total after 20 matches since 1981.
Tomorrow’s visitors Burton Albion are 22nd in the table, with 16 points and three wins from 21 games, which leaves them five points from safety.
While the Brewers have the eighth most goals in the division – more than Barnsley – their record of 42 conceded is the most in the top four tiers of English football.
But the Reds have lost at home to mid-table sides such as Exeter and Lincoln and away at one of Burton’s fellow relegation-battlers Morecambe.
Duff told the Chronicle: “The players know now there is no easy game.
“At the start of the season, we had players who thought they were Championship players in League One and could rock up and win games.
“There have been some games when we haven’t been good enough but we’re fourth after 19 games so we are doing more right than wrong.
“The group is tighter than what it was, there is a better understanding between the players and the staff and hopefully the supporters as well. We are under no illusions that, because we are fourth and because we have done OK in the last month, we will just win. We’ve been burned a couple in times.”
Duff added: “We have to turn up. Last weekend, everything you thought would happen didn’t happen. It isn’t a league when the favourites always win.”
Burton drew 1-1 at home to near neighbours Derby County on Saturday, meaning they are winless in six league games having drawn the last four.
They then lost 4-2 at home to Accrington Stanley in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday, ending an unbeaten run of seven games in all competitions.
Only the top two Ipswich Town and Plymouth Argyle have scored more away goals in League One this season than Burton with 16 in ten games.
But the Brewers have the worst away record in the division with six points.
Their only win on the road in the league this season was a 2-0 success at Exeter City in September.
Burton are managed by Dino Maamria who took over when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sacked in early September – having been one of the main candidates for the Barnsley job.
Maamria, from Tunisia, has not faced any manager more than Duff who he has met five times while in charge of Stevenage then Oldham Athletic.
They have each won twice.
Duff said: “They have drawn their last four but they’ve played Derby, Plymouth and Charlton. They have had an upturn since Dino took over.
“They conceded a lot of goals in the first ten games. People will look at their record and say they have conceded a lot, but not recently. They are hard to beat and they have a goal-scorer.
“It will be a horrible, hard scrappy game against a physical side. We have to match all of that then give our quality a chance to come out.
“They were more expansive earlier in the season but they have recognised where they are in the league and they need to make things scrappy.
“They are a big team and good from set plays. Tom Hamer has got a long throw and, every time it goes out of play in the top third, it will be put in the box.
“They don’t give you two seconds on the ball. Dino’s teams are always fit.
“I think it will be tight, I don’t see either team winning three or 4-0.”
Burton have two former Barnsley strikers in Victor Adeboyejo and Sam Winnall.
Adeboyejo turned down a new contract at Oakwell last summer, after five years with the Reds, with Duff in charge when the striker officially left but the two never worked together.
He is Burton’s top-scorer with 12 goals in all competitions while he is the third top-scorer in League One with ten.
Duff said: “I don’t know anything about the situation. I wasn’t part of the conversations. The only thing I do know is he is a threat.
“Everyone knows what he has – competitiveness, power, running in behind, enthusiasm. But he’s added goals this season. I am sure everyone at the club will be pleased to see him. He’s gone and bettered himself.”
Winnall, who netted 48 goals for Barnsley between 2014 and 2017 including leading them to promotion out of League One in 2016, rejoined Burton in the summer.
The 31-year-old has started just one league game so far, coming off the bench in eight others, and netting once in the league as well as three times in cups.
He has not been in the matchday squad in recent weeks.
Barnsley players Devante Cole and Brad Collins were both on loan to Burton in the 2018/19 season. Striker Cole netted twice in 16 appearances while goalkeeper Collins played 35 games.
This will be Barnsley’s third successive home league game against a side in the relegation zone, having won 2-0 over Forest Green Rovers and 3-1 over MK Dons.
They have not played a league match at Oakwell for almost a month since November 19 but a 3-0 FA Cup win over Crewe Alexandra the following week means they have won their last three there with eight goals.
This will be the tenth meeting of the two clubs, with all the previous nine between 2014 and 2019.
Barnsley were unbeaten in the first six, with three wins and three draws, but suffered two defeats in the last three meetings.
After losing 5-0 in their first ever trip to Oakwell, in the FA Cup, then 1-0 the following year, Burton have drawn twice either side of a 2-1 victory over Jose Morais’ Reds in February 2018. The most recent meeting was a 3-1 win for Albion at the Pirelli Stadium in April 2019.