MICHAEL Duff has not given up on automatic promotion this season but believes his players deserve credit for securing at least a play-off place with four games left in the season.

The Reds are fourth in League One, six points off the top two with four games to play.

This week they won 5-1 at relegated bottom club Forest Green Rovers on Saturday then drew 0-0 at mid-table Lincoln City on Tuesday.

They now host relegation-battling Oxford United tomorrow then promotion rivals Ipswich Town on Tuesday – hoping to build on an eight-match winning run at home.

Duff told the Chronicle: “We knew before Lincoln we had to be nearly perfect and we’re probably going to have to be perfect now.

“We were pretty good the other night but we weren’t quite perfect.

“We have lost four games in four months, which isn’t too bad.

“We’ll do everything we can and if we fall short, we fall short.

“We have secured the play-offs as the worst case scenario which I don’t think anyone expected.

“It’s an abnormal season in this league. If you look at the points in the Championship and League Two, we would be comfortably in the top two.

“But we’re not, we’re in League One.

“We have 82 points which is a good return from 42 games.

“We’ll try to make it 94 but it might still not be enough.”

He added: “We haven’t given up on it (the top two).

“I don’t look at all the stats and permutations, I just trust in what I do and trust in the players.”

Many supporters and people around the club were sceptical of a promotion challenge at the start of the season, following a record-breaking relegation campaign in the Championship and the sale of several star players.

Duff said: “I would be surprised if anyone at the club at the start of the season wouldn’t have taken this situation, with the upheaval that happened.

“Of the three teams that got relegated, we’re the highest and we definitely had the most disruption.

“You look at the players that have left who are playing every week in the Championship, like Carlton Morris who is on 19 goals.

“Quality walked out but the group listened, their attitude has been good the whole way along with a few reminders.

“The players deserve credit because a lot of people couldn’t wait to write them off.

“They have come in every day, worked hard and tried to improve and that’s what we will keep doing.

“It’s not like we’ve ever been in the top two so, if we finish in the play-offs, we haven’t lost the last seven games and dropped in.

“We have a lot to play for anyway. Even if it is definitely the play-offs, players will want to keep their shirts for those games.”

Duff is partly pleased that there is disappointment that Barnsley have fallen further away from the top two this week, as it shows the expectations around the club have changed across the last year.

“It’s good that people are thinking about it because it shows there is hope.

“When I walked into the club at the start of the season it was doom and gloom and ‘the club is useless, the board is useless.’ The atmosphere is much better now. It’s been a successful season one way or another.

“We might lose 3-0 in the play-offs and it won’t be doom and gloom because there’s a lot of positivity now.”

After hosting Ipswich, Barnsley play their final away game on April 29 at MK Dons who are 19th, three points and two places above the relegation zone with three games left so cannot be mathematically safe when they host the Reds.

They then complete the campaign on May 7 at home to Peterborough United who are fifth and embroiled in a tight three-way battle with Bolton Wanderers and Derby County for the final two play-off places.

The top three’s remaining games:

Plymouth: Cambridge H; Bristol Rovers H; Burton Albion H; Port Vale A.

Ipswich: Peterborough A; Barnsley A; Exeter H; Fleetwood A.

Sheffield Wednesday: Exeter H; Shrewsbury A; Derby H.