MICHAEL Duff suggested there may be some changes to Barnsley’s team when they visit relegation-battling Milton Keynes Dons from 3pm, but they are aiming to win the final two league fixtures before the play-offs.
The Reds can no longer finish in League One’s top two – following Tuesday’s loss to Ipswich – going into the MK game and a home match with play-off chasers Peterborough on May 7.
Luca Connell has been ill this week while others have some knocks.
Head coach Duff said: “We won’t be giving them all a weekend off and playing the under 21s. That’s not fair on the league, I would be fuming if I was in anyone else’s position and we did that.
“There are a couple of knocks from Tuesday and, if we think it’s a risk that they could be out for four to five weeks, we won’t take it. Players have been playing when they are at risk of injury.
“We might have to give a couple a breather. But I don’t think it will devalue the team. I have been saying for weeks that I would be happy to start the players we’ve been bringing on.”
Duff insists his side will not be lacking motivation. He said: “We will try to win the game. I think the positive from Tuesday is we’ve had the taste of defeat in our mouths recently. It’s horrible and we don’t want it again this season.
“We need to use it as fuel.
“I don’t think our players, with all due respect, are good enough to pick and choose when they turn up.
“We tell them all the time you don’t just get up for big games. We put demands on them in training. Sometimes they have to do animal impressions, sometimes it is a monetary fine.
“I have been told our fans are making a fancy dress day of it. Our away form has tailed off a little bit.
“It’s not been poor but it’s dipped so we will look to address it.”
The Dons are 20th in League One, two points and a place clear of the relegation zone going into the final two games.
MK have won just four of their 22 home games this season, the lowest number in League One and joint lowest in the EFL.
Barnsley have conceded the fewest away goals in League One this season, with 19 from 22 games, and will equal the club record for best defensive record on the road in a season if they keep a clean sheet.
MK lost in the play-off semi-finals last May under Liam Manning who was sacked in December with them in the relegation zone.
He was replaced by Mark Jackson who played one game for Barnsley on loan from Leeds United, a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace in January 2000.
He was brought in on a month-long loan to cover Eric Tinkler who was with South Africa at the African Nations Cup.
His previous game was the 7-1 win for the Reds at home to Huddersfield Town in 1998 while on loan to the Terriers.
Jackson eventually became a youth coach at Leeds, working with players such as Barnsley centre-back Liam Kitching, before being promoted to the first team coaching staff last year then moving into his first first team managerial role in Milton Keynes.
He has won six, drawn seven and lost ten of his 23 league games.
Duff said: “They are possession-based in a 3-4-3. They try to keep the ball.
“They look like they have a little bit more zest after a really difficult start.
“It’s a conundrum why they are fighting for their lives.
“But it happens often that teams reach the play-offs then struggle the next year – it happened with Huddersfield this year in the Championship and obviously Barnsley last season.
“They still have good players who can hurt you. Mo Eisa has scored lot of goals at this level, scored at Oakwell against us and he went for a million quid.
“They have other experienced players like (Josh) McEachran.
“It’s a tough place to play if you’re a home team, I would imagine. It’s such a big ground and, without being disrespectful, they don’t get the biggest crowds. They are a new club and they don’t have the partisan support of other clubs. But it’s a nice stadium and the pitch is pretty good.”
After 35 games, in early March, the Dons were four points adrift of safety but they won three successive games 1-0 against fellow strugglers Cambridge, Accrington and Morecambe to get out of the relegation zone. They then drew four in a row before the seven-match unbeaten run ended with a 1-0 home loss to Charlton Athletic last week.
On Saturday, they lost 1-0 at mid-table Fleetwood so they are winless in six.
The previous meeting this season, on November 19 at Oakwell saw Barnsley win 3-1. After an early Jordan Williams goal was cancelled out by Eisa, Adam Phillips and Herbie Kane netted in the second half.
Barnsley’s top-scorer Devante Cole left the Reds after his initial spell in 2014, when a Manchester City loanee, to join MK Dons and scored three goals in 15 games, including five starts, as they gained promotion to the Championship.
If he plays, this will be Cole’s 100th game for the Reds.
His fellow striker Max Watters spent the first half of last season on loan at MK, netting seven goals in 14 matches.
The nine meetings of the two clubs have brought three wins for Barnsley, three draws and three defeats.
The Reds are yet to win in three league trips to the Dons, drawing twice at the National Hockey Stadium before winning at Stadium MK in the FA Cup in 2013 then losing there in the league two years later.