MICHAEL Duff says the next month will ‘probably define where we end up’ as they take on the majority of their promotion rivals – but he views that run as an exciting opportunity.
The Reds remain sixth in League One, three points clear in the play-off places, having won five and drawn one of their last six games.
They won 4-0 at Duff’s former club Cheltenham Town on Saturday and they now host fifth-placed Derby County tomorrow in their final fixture of February.
March begins with a trip to Bristol Rovers then home games with Portsmouth and second-placed Plymouth Argyle before they visit seventh-placed Wycombe Wanderers then host leaders and local rivals Sheffield Wednesday as well as third-placed Ipswich Town.
They then travel to Exeter City on the 28th for a rearranged game.
Duff told the Chronicle: “We have them (promotion rivals) all at home apart from Wycombe.
“We are getting into the business end of the season and March will probably define where we end up.
“Even if we are three, four or five points outside the play-offs at the end of March, I still think we have a chance.
“We have lost two games in three and a half months and we’re still sixth.
“That tells you everything about the league – it’s tough and relentless.
“The top ones keep winning.
“But you can spend so much energy worrying about things we can’t control. We just know we have to pick up points.”
Duff wants to see the coming games as an opportunity rather than a daunting task.
He told the Chronicle: “People keep telling me it’s a tough run of games, which seems to be a Yorkshire thing, but what if we win a couple?
“If we continue our form during this run, we’ll be in an excellent position.
“I don’t think we will win the next seven or lose the next seven.
“But we will do what we have done for the last 30 matches – prepare properly, and give everything we can.
“The players know there is an opportunity.
“At the start of the season it was a long, long way away but now there are 16 games left so it looks closer.”
Duff praised the fans after the 2-0 win over Cambridge United in the most recent home game, and knows they will be needed again in the coming weeks.
“Everyone talks about Oakwell being hostile. I know it can be. It hasn’t been for whatever reason this season.
“But against Cambridge, we were down to ten men, under the cosh and knowing we needed to win.
“For the first time, the place came alive – you could feel and smell it.
“We scored in that moment.
“The fans are so important.
“Sometimes the players need the supporters. We understand it’s our responsibility to get bums off seats, but it’s a two-way street.
“You don’t go to a restaurant expecting a poor meal. You hope for a good meal, you are prepared to pay for it and, if it’s not good, you make a complaint at the end. I don’t see how a football match is any different.
“The fans have spent their money and they can express their opinion at the end. But don’t boo after five minutes when someone makes a mistake.
“Support the team for 90 minutes then have your opinion.”
March games: 4: Bristol Rovers, A; 7: Portsmouth, H; 11: Plymouth, H; 18: Wycombe A; 21: Sheffield Wednesday, H; 25, Ipswich, H: 28: Exeter, A.