An in-depth look at the sides currently in the top six in League One, as Barnsley challenge for promotion.

BARNSLEY, 4th, 66 points, 34 games

A very settled Reds side are performing with real confidence, outplaying strong opponents, scoring excellent goals from a variety of sources and staying strong at the back.

They look a very well-drilled, well-organised team with momentum and consistency built up over many months, having collected 45 points from 19 games.

It currently feels as though defeat, or even a draw, in any game might end the Reds’ hopes of automatic promotion – almost like a cup run with the play-off race a consolation prize.

But each highly-rated opponent dispatched with ease makes a charge for second place seem slightly more realistic.

Defeat at Wycombe tomorrow might leave them fighting for a play-off place again but victory would cement them in the top six and keep them in top two contention. Plymouth and Ipswich have the points on the board and – in theory – more generous run-ins, but both must be concerned by Barnsley’s fine form.

It could help to look at the run-in in terms of the final points total rather than the week-by-week jostling in the table. No side has ever not been automatically promoted from this division with a tally of more than 90 points.

The Reds are capable of posting such a huge total if they collect 25 points from their last 12 games – having just taken 26 from ten.

If they do so and miss out then it has been a freak season and they will have huge momentum for the play-offs.

What do the stats say?

The Reds have made the fewest tackles in League One, having been in the top two in the Championship for the previous two seasons.

They have taken the fewest points when falling behind this season – two from ten games – while only Charlton, Lincoln and Forest Green have also not come from behind to win.

The Reds and Morecambe are the only clubs yet to be given a penalty in League One this season, with Bolton getting eight.

What is their run-in like?

Very difficult, especially in the next week.

If they can get through the next three games against Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday and Exeter unbeaten with at least two wins then March will have been another excellent month and they will emerge into a slightlly kinder April, in theory, with a fine chance of the top two. The Ipswich match being moved from March 25 slightly relaxes a brutal schedule.

The Reds are now set to host Ipswich in one of their final games of the season, mostly likely April 25, which could be an enormous game if they both continue their current form.

Fixtures: Wycombe A, tomorrow; Sheffield Wednesday H, Tuesday; Exeter A, Mar 28; Morecambe, H, Apr 1; Burton A, Apr 7; Shrewsbury H, Apr 10; Forest Green, A, Apr 15; Lincoln A, Apr 18; Oxford H, Apr 22; MK Dons A, Apr 29; Peterborough H, May 7; Ipswich H, TBC

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY, 1st, 77 points, 34 games

Armed with one of the biggest budgets in the division, and with former Barnsley defender Darren Moore at the helm, the Owls are clear favourites to win the title this season.

They are 22 games unbeaten and have a five-point gap to third-placed Ipswich, who have played two extra games.

Tuesday’s derby at Oakwell is a huge clash between two of the form sides in the country not just the county.

It is likely to be more important for Barnsley’s top two ambitions as, unlike the Reds, Wednesday could afford a few slip-ups and still get automatic promotion.

Who is their key player?

Midfielder George Byers has earned praise for his performances this season, with six goals and three assists.

He has been playing in as central three along with experienced international pairing Barry Bannan – who has five goals and eight assists – and Will Vaulks.

Former Barnsley man Michael Smith and his strike-partner Josh Windass both have 11 goals this season.

What do the stats say?

Eight of their last 11 games are away but they have the best away record in the division. Their nine goals conceded on the road this season is the best record in the EFL while the Reds are second with 13.

What is their run-in like?

After facing Bolton and Barnsley this week, the Owls take on eight sides in mid-table or the relegation battle.

They will hope to have secured promotion, or be very close to it, before they visit Shrewsbury and host Derby in the final two games.

Fixtures: Bolton H, tonight; Barnsley A, Tuesday; Forest Green A, Mar 26; Cheltenham A, Mar 29; Lincoln H, Apr 1; Oxford A, Apr 7; Accrington H, Apr 10; Burton A, Apr 15; Bristol R A, Apr 18; Exeter H, Apr 22; Shrewsbury A, Apr 29; Derby H, May 7.

PLYMOUTH ARGYLE, 2nd, 74 points, 36 games

The Pilgrims did not look like promotion candidates on Saturday – losing the ball probably more than any opponent this season, while playing out from the back, and being gifted their only real chance. They could not match Barnsley’s intensity and desire.

But they will not play teams like the Reds every week and are clearly a good side who have put themselves in a strong position to finish second.

It is now down to how they handle the pressure with teams closing in.

They play on Saturday and Tuesday this week like Barnsley but then are not involved in the league again until April 7, following their EFL Trophy final at Wembley against Bolton which could be a distraction or a catalyst.

The Reds are due to play their two games in hand during that break for Plymouth, so could cut the gap significantly if they maintain their current form.

Who is their key player?

Ryan Hardie missed a big chance at Oakwell, which may prove vital, but he has 13 goals and will surely add more as a physical presence with impressive movement.

What do the stats say?

They have conceded the most goals in the top seven, having let in five in three different away matches this season.

Their goalkeepers have had to make the second most saves in the division.

What is their run-in like?

The easiest, in theory. None of their remaining games are against any of the top seven .

They have won 16 home games this season, and with only sides outside the top ten to visit Home Park, they could potentially win all of their remaining matches there.

They have won just two of their last 11 away games, losing the last two 5-2 and 3-0.

They have more difficult matches on the road, including a Devon derby at Exeter and a trip to Shrewsbury who are in the top ten.

Their penultimate game is against Burton so Reds loanee Jasper Moon could do his parent club a favour. Their final match is at Port Vale, whose director of football David Flitcroft could potential provide another miracle for Barnsley ten years exactly after the ‘great escape’ when he was Reds boss.

Fixtures: Forest Green H, tomorrow; Accrington A, Tues; Morecambe A, Apr 7; Lincoln H, Apr 10; Exeter A, Apr 15; Shrewsbury A, Apr 18; Cambridge H, Apr 22; Bristol Rovers H, Apr 25; Burton H, Apr 29; Port Vale A, May 7.

IPSWICH TOWN, 3rd, 72 points, 36 games

It is natural, from a Barnsley perspective, to have Plymouth in the crosshairs but they will also have to overtake Ipswich to finish in the top two.

The Suffolk club are the top-scorers in League One with 70 goals – only Championship leaders Burnley have netted more in English professional football – while they have lost just four times this season and kept six consecutive clean sheets.

The Tractor Boys had won just one out of eight in early 2023 and slipped out of the top two but they beat four relegation-battlers in successive matches before gaining an impressive 2-0 victory at Bolton on Saturday.

Their late-season visit to Oakwell, in midweek in the last fortnight, could be one of the biggest games there for years.

Who is their key player?

Conor Chaplin, the former Barnsley striker, is the second highest scorer in the division with 16 goals including a superb free-kick against the Reds in a 2-2 August draw.

What do the stats say?

As well as being the top-scorers, the Tractor Boys have had the most shots on goal and conceded the fewest on their goal – with Barnsley second in that last table. A clue to their style of play under former Manchester United coach Kieran McKenna is that they have the highest possession percentage, best pass completion percentage and made the most passes.

What is their run-in like?

Probably the most difficult of the top six – in theory – other than the Reds’. They now take on Shrewsbury, Derby and Wycombe in a run that could either enhance or end their top two chances, with the trip to Oakwell to come.

Fixtures: Shrewsbury H, tomorrow; Derby A, Apr 1; Wycombe H, Apr 7; Cheltenham A, Apr 10; Charlton H, Apr 15; Port Vale H, Apr 18; Peterborough A, Apr 22; Exeter H, Apr 29; Fleetwood A, May 7; Barnsley A, TBC.

DERBY COUNTY, 5th, 64 points, 36 games

Derby look the most likely side to cruise comfortably into a play-off spot in the final games of the season unless they have extremely good or bad end to the campaign.

They may need maximum points to challenge for the top two and are four clear in the play-off places.

The Rams’ chances of automatic promotion were dealt a big blow in their 4-1 loss at Oakwell last month, after which they have collected seven points from four games.

Who is their key player?

David McGoldrick has 16 goals this season, including three hat-tricks and a consolation strike at Oakwell last month. The 35-year-old is one of several very experienced players in the Derby side such as former Reds captain Conor Hourihane. They also have some talented youngsters such as midfielder Max Bird who has just returned from a long-term injury.

What is their run in like?

Not easy with Peterborough, Ipswich, Portsmouth and Wednesday to play as well as several long trips.

Fixtures: Fleetwood H, tomorrow; Peterborough A, Mar 25; Ipswich H, April 1; Forest Green A, Apr 7; MK Dons H, Apr 10; Bristol R A, Apr 15; Exeter A, Apr 18; Burton H, Apr 22; Portsmouth H, Apr 29; Sheffield Wednesday A, May 7.

BOLTON WANDERERS, 6th, 63 points, 37 games

One of the strange elements of this promotion race is the inbalance in the number of games the contenders have played.

After Bolton visit Sheffield Wednesday tonight, Barnsley will have four games in hand on them. But the Trotters then do not have a league game for three weeks, partly due to their involvement in the EFL Trophy final, in which time the Reds are due to play four times so could open up a large points gap between the clubs. It remains to be seen whether that break refreshes Bolton for a final push or leaves them out of rhythm and well outside the top six.

They are the only side in the promotion battle Barnsley aren’t due to face in this difficult month from late February until late March – having won 3-0 at Oakwell on January 2 after a harsh red card to Mads Andersen in the tenth minute. But a run of one win in five has left them with no realistic chance of the top two and nervously glancing over their shoulder at the sides outside the play-off places.

Seventh-placed Wycombe are three points behind with a game in hand. Peterborough, Shrewsbury and Portsmouth are also within ten points of the top six so will look to reel in Bolton during their break.

Fixtures: Sheffield Wednesday A, tonight; Exeter A, Apr 7; Cambridge H, Apr 10; Oxford A, Apr 15; Burton A, Apr 18; Shrewsbury H, Apr 22; Accrington H, Apr 25; Fleetwood H, Apr 29; Bristol R A, May 7.