IF, BEFORE the home game with Derby County just over a month ago, Barnsley had been told they would collect five wins and a draw from seven games mostly against promotion contenders, they would have been thrilled.
That is what they have achieved, moving up from sixth to fourth in the process and opening up a substantial gap to the sides outside the top six with sights more keenly trained on the top two who they beat emphatically during March.
Michael Duff was on the verge of making arguably his strongest case for League One’s Manager of the Month award, which he has already won three times this season, before losing the final game of March at Exeter City on Tuesday.
That was a poor result and performance but the exception to the rule which they will look to return to in April.
Although reaching the top two now looks more difficult, they will move within five points of current leaders Plymouth if they beat lowly Morecambe at home tomorrow while second-placed Sheffield Wednesday have also faltered this week.
The Reds must simply focus on getting as close to maximum points as possible and hope their promotion rivals cannot match that blistering pace in a race which could potentially see the top four all post tallies in the 90s.
In an unprecedented situation, Barnsley could break their points record of 91 set by Daniel Stendel’s side four seasons ago but, unlike that team, it may not be enough for automatic promotion.
After facing five of the top nine across their last seven games, five of their remaining fixtures are against sides in the bottom seven. Clearly the home ties with Ipswich and Peterborough stand out as the toughest tests.
But each game will present its own challenges, with relegation-battlers fighting for their lives always capable of shock results, while lower teams may play very defensively against the high-flying Reds.
We have seen with Tuesday’s result and Sheffield Wednesday’s loss at bottom club Forest Green Rovers – then a draw at Cheltenham having been 2-0 down – that the ‘the top teams just keep winning’ narrative is not totally true in the nervy home strait.
It is another tough schedule as, after tomorrow’s game then a free week, they have a run of seven in 21 days. But they have a strong squad capable of coping with that.
They will look to improve their away performances, which dipped during March, and hope to react better to adversity as they are yet to win from behind this season.
Here are their nine remaining games:
MORECAMBE, H, TOMORROW
The atmosphere for this game will likely be different to the last Oakwell match when Barnsley gained a wonderful derby win over Sheffield Wednesday.
But they must approach it with the same mentality as they look to win a seventh successive home league game for the first time in 39 years. The focus must be bouncing back from the poor defeat in midweek.
The Reds produced one of their worst performances of the season when they lost 1-0 in October at Morecambe, who had been the only club in English football who had not won at home this season.
The Shrimps are in the relegation zone with the joint worst away form in the division.
These two sides are the only teams in League One who have not been awarded a penalty this season.
The referee Seb Stockbridge wrongly sent off Mads Andersen against Bolton Wanderers in January.
BURTON ALBION, A, APRIL 7
The last time Barnsley visited the Pirelli Stadium, their unbeaten 20-game run ended with defeat in April 2019.
Another long unbeaten run has just ended and they want to be building a new one by the time they make this trip to Staffordshire on Good Friday.
It is one of the shortest away journeys Barnsley will make all season and they should have good backing.
When Burton lost 2-0 at Oakwell on December 17 they were second-bottom and five points from safety.
But they have won eight of their last 15 games, moving them up 18th – six points clear of danger.
One factor in that run has been Barnsley loanee Jasper Moon who has impressed on the left of a back three but cannot face his parent club.
They sold top-scorer Victor Adeboyejo in January while Sam Winnall is out for the season.
SHREWSBURY, H, APRIL 10
When Barnsley won at Shrewsbury in November, 1-0 thanks to an Adam Phillips strike, it was near the start of their current sequence of 51 points from 22 games.
They showed plenty of character during a match which ended with a melee behind the goal in front of the away end after Chey Dunkley fouled Brad Collins.
Barnsley’s Easter Monday visitors shot up into promotion contention with a six-game winning run in January and February but have won just two of their next seven and are now nine points off the play-offs.
Shrewsbury’s last visit to Oakwell was also over the Easter Weekend in 2019 when they lost 2-1.
Veteran manager Steve Cotterill – who gave Michael Duff and Martin Devaney their starts in professional football at Cheltenham – has never won at Oakwell in six attempts.
FOREST GREEN, A, APRIL 15
The Gloucestershire club caused one of the shocks of the season on Sunday when they won 1-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
The bottom club had been on a 16-match winless run with three draws and 13 losses but Duncan Ferguson – who scored for Everton against Barnsley in the Premier League – got his first win in charge.
They are still 11 points from safety so, unless that win sparks an extraordinary run, could be relegated or very close to it by the time Barnsley visit them for the first time ever. Their 71 goals conceded is the most in the top four divisions of English football.
Barnsley’s good run started against Rovers in late October and they will be favourites to complete the double. Brad Collins, James Norwood, Nicky Cadden and Liam Kitching all used to play for Forest Green.
LINCOLN CITY, A, APRIL 18
Lincoln are the only club in League One who have fielded a younger side, on average, than the Reds this season. Another similarity is that neither have come from behind to win this season.
Lincoln were the only unbeaten home side in the EFL before losing 3-0 at home to Peterborough last week.
They have drawn 13 games at home and only won four which is the joint lowest in the division.
The 14th-placed Imps are ten points clear of the relegation zone but have only won three of their last 19.
Lincoln have beaten Barnsley twice at Oakwell this season – a 3-0 win in the EFL Trophy in August, with James Norwood sent off early, then a 1-0 success in the league in October after which the Reds changed formation and found form again.
This will be Barnsley’s first trip to Sincil Bank since 1975 for a league fixture.
OXFORD UNITED, H, APRIL 22
This match will be played a year to the day since the Reds were relegated from the Championship with defeat at Huddersfield Town.
It would be fitting if they demonstrated all the progress made over the past 12 months with an important win which helped them towards the Championship.
This time it is the Us who are in relegation danger, currently two points above the drop zone.
They appointed Liam Manning, who was sacked as MK Dons in December, earlier this month and he has only managed one game, a draw with Morecambe.
He took over a side that had taken just one point from their previous ten league games, which led to the sacking of Karl Robinson.
Much might be made of the home match with promotion rivals Ipswich Town three days later but Barnsley must first complete the double over the Us.
IPSWICH TOWN, H, APRIL 25
This match would have taken place this week if not for an alleged mix-up, with Ipswich claiming they were informed they had three international call-ups before Greg Leigh was not included in the full Jamaica squad. That meant they did not have the three call-ups required to postpone the match but the change had already been made.
Conspiracy theories will abound but it will certainly add an extra motivation to this third-to-last game which, if both sides are still in top two contention, could be one of the biggest at Oakwell in years.
Despite away fans having to travel a long way on a weeknight, it could another one of the biggest attendances at Oakwell in the last decade.
Ipswich have won their last six games without conceding and visit Derby County tomorrow.
MK DONS, A, APRIL 29
The away end at Stadium MK has been occupied by 6,500 Sheffield Wednesday fans and 6,700 Derby County fans this season.
The Reds could potentially take a huge following to this final away game of the season with automatic promotion on the line if all has gone well in the previous month. MK could have a lot to play for as well as they are currently 19th, four points above the drop zone.
They have just played three of the bottom four and won all three against Cambridge, Accrington and Morecambe.
Their manager is Mark Jackson who played one game for Barnsley on loan from Leeds United – a 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace on January 15, 2000.
He was part of the Leeds coaching staff before joining MK in December.
PETERBOROUGH UNITED, H, MAY 7
Barnsley’s final two home games are, in theory, their most difficult fixtures of the run-in with Ipswich visiting then the Posh.
United sacked former Barnsley midfielder Grant McCann in January and brought Darren Ferguson back for a fourth spell.
They are currently seventh, one point off the play-offs after a vital 2-0 win over sixth-placed Derby County this week, so could have plenty to play for when they visit on the final day. Jonson Clarke-Harris is the top-scorer in League One with 22 goals.
Peterborough won 2-0 at Oakwell on Easter Monday last year, a very damaging defeat for Barnsley who were relegated four days later with the Posh following them down the next week.