A MONTH from today, Barnsley will conclude their league season with a Sunday lunchtime kick-off at home to Peterborough United.
The Reds will be hoping that is their final match of the season, after finishing in the top two – rather than spending the rest of May in the play-offs.
They are still an outside bet for automatic promotion but, as long as they keep winning, they will retain a chance and put pressure on those around them.
To finish in the play-off places would be a fine achievement given the disarray the club was in a year ago, the financial cost of relegation and the overhaul of the playing and coaching staff.
If you don’t include the wasted salaries of loaned-out Obbi Oulare and Aaron Leya Iseka, they are not thought to be in League One’s top ten biggest payers of wages.
But, now they are in contention for the top two, of course there is huge excitement about automatic promotion in the fanbase – while that will be what all the players are aiming for.
To collect 54 points from 23 games is magnificent form at any level and by far the highest tally in the division over that spell.
That they are not higher than fourth is down to all the rebuilding they had to do last summer – as well as the high standards at the top of the division.
They were inconsistent early on and, while their tally of 21 points from the first 15 games seemed just about adequate at the time – given the turbulent transfer window and fragile confidence after relegation – it is now what is stopping them being well clear at the top.
But there is no doubt they are currently one of the very best sides in the third tier, if not the best.
Whatever happens, this season has been a triumph and the club is a good place to be around with fans enjoying going to games again and players and staff united under an excellent manager in Michael Duff.
But missing out would be costly, both financially and in terms of star players realistically leaving.
CLUB RECORDS BECKON
Barnsley could break a host of club records this season if they win the vast majority of their remaining matches, as they would surely need to in order to finish in the top two.
The Reds have 23 league wins, so could surpass the 26 they achieved in the last promotion season under Daniel Stendel four years ago.
They could still break the club record of 30 wins in 1954/55 and 1938/39 campaigns when they finished first in Division Three North, if they win all their remaining games.
The club record of 12 away league wins could still be beaten and the best ever tally of 18 home league victories will be equalled if their current seven-match winning run at Oakwell continues until the end of the campaign.
The club record points tally is 91 from the 2018/19 campaign, or 97 in 1938/39 if you adjust to three points per win for every season. They are highly likely to need a total well in the 90s to finish in the top two.
JUST KEEP WINNING, WITH RIVALS POTENTIALLY FALTERING
Five of Barnsley’s next eight games are against sides in the bottom seven.
Matches against relegation-batters bring their own challenges at the end of the season but, if Barnsley can match their opponents’ intensity and desire, their quality should help them pick up a lot of points.
They were superb in the thrashing of Morecambe, but there are sterner tests ahead.
This weekend’s games will not be easy as they visit a Burton side on decent form and host Shrewsbury who join them in the top ten, although they have had poor results recently.
They then visit bottom club Forest Green, who could be relegated that day, then take on Lincoln and Oxford who are both currently in poor form. Five successive wins in that run are possible if they play to their best consistently.
Their last two home games are against impressive top six sides in Ipswich and Peterborough, either side of a trip to relegation-battling MK Dons.
Meanwhile, Plymouth Argyle return to league action today after a 17-day break including the EFL Trophy final against Bolton Wanderers at Wembley which they lost 4-0. The impact of that remains to be seen.
Sheffield Wednesday are top but have taken just two points from their last four so will fall out of the top two if everyone wins their games in hand. Third-placed Ipswich – who visit Oakwell this month – are on magnificent form, having won their last seven without conceding including at Derby County on Saturday.
It will be a fascinating finale which Barnsley, currently one of the chasers, must make sure goes right down to the wire.
REDS SQUAD NOW VERY DEEP
Seconds after Barnsley scored their fourth goal on Saturday, they changed all three of their central midfielders on 55 minutes.
Off went Luke Thomas, who had burst back into the 11, as well as near ever-presents Luca Connell and Herbie Kane who had tormented Morecambe.
On came Jon Russell – who played in the Championship play-off final last season and had just made his international debut for Jamaica in front of 60,000 people at the Azteca Stadium – nine-goal Adam Phillips and Josh Benson who then set up the last goal. Those three substitutes would get in most League One 11s, and are all talented enough for at least the Championship, which shows the immense strength in depth Barnsley now have in that area.
They are also stronger up front, with James Norwood able to stay on the bench with a sore hamstring when he probably would have had to play before Christmas.
Goalkeeper Harry Isted notched up a ninth win and sixth clean sheet in 11 Reds games, keeping the excellent Brad Collins out of the side.
They have had a club record 22 different goal-scorers this season in all competitions.
The squad will now be tested during a run of seven matches in 22 days starting today, but it appears to be strong enough to handle that.
The only area in which there is not quite as much cover is centre-back with Robbie Cundy again an injury doubt. If any of the starting back three is unavailable, Jordan Williams would have to play there with his back-up Barry Cotter currently building up to full fitness and recovering from concussion in an under 21s match. That was the risk Barnsley took by not signing another centre-back in January but they will hope it does not haunt them.