MICHAEL Duff is glad Barnsley are in control of their destiny for the first time this season after chasing the top two for several months before finishing in the play-offs.
The Reds – who drew 4-4 at MK Dons on Saturday, having been 4-1 down – are certain to finish fourth in League One so will face the fifth-placed team in the play-off semi-final. It is likely to be Bolton Wanderers who are currently fifth although they could be overtaken on the final day by Derby County.
The Reds’ play-off legs are due to be on Saturday, May 13 from 3pm, away from home, and Friday May 19 from 8pm at Oakwell. The dates have been changed after initially being both Saturdays following advice from police, the Chronicle understands. The play-off final at Wembley is on Monday, May 29.
The Reds now host seventh-placed Peterborough United – who still have a chance of reaching the play-offs – in their final game of the league season from midday on Sunday.
Victory would be their 27th of the league season, the most of any campaign since 1954/55. Their points tally of 86 is their second best since three points for a win was introduced in 1981, with only the 2018/19 total of 91 higher.
Duff told the Chronicle: “We didn’t expect to be here but we are.
“All the back-slapping can wait.
“The aim is to get out of the league.
“We are now in control of what happens to us. For the last six months when we’ve been on a brilliant, brilliant run, picking up I think the most points in the last 30 games, it’s never been in our control.
“Now it is because, if we win four games, we are promoted.
“It is tough to win one game, never mind four. But that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We’ve been at it ten months. I’ve told the players you do all this work for 20 minutes of a feeling on a pitch somewhere when you have achieved it.
“You can’t buy that.”
Duff is pleased with the progress the club has made since relegation a year ago. He said: “To get us to this point from where we were in the summer, there has been a lot of hard work by a lot of different people. And by the supporters as well because they have to work hard to pay to come and watch us, which is fully appreciated.
“If we don’t go up, people will dress it up as doom and gloom again, but it isn’t. I try to take the emotion out of it and think ‘where were we?’ and ‘where are we?’ I think there’s been progress.”
Duff won promotion in the play-offs with Cheltenham and Burnley.
“As a player, it’s probably the best way to go up. I was lucky enough to win the Championship, finish second and win the play-offs in different seasons.
“The day out of the play-offs is the best but we have a long way to go until then. I have told the players not to start thinking about Wembley. I have told them what we’re chasing but we need to win the next one. It’s been ‘win the next half’ from the first day I got here and it’s worked so far.”
The retained list is expected to be released later than usual this year.
Luke Thomas is out of contract in the summer. The midfielder has said he would like to stay at Oakwell and Duff has said he would like to keep him, but negotiations are not expected to reach their conclusion until after Barnsley’s season ends. The others out of contract in the summer are mainly under 21s players, as well as Clarke Oduor who has not featured in the first team since August. The Reds have an option to extend the contract of James Norwood for a further year. The striker has been a regular in the side and has 12 goals.
The Reds are thought to have a buy clause for loanee Bobby Thomas, who has impressed in defence, if they are promoted. They also have one for Josh Martin but the Norwich City loanee has not played since February.
Goalkeeper Harry Isted has impressed on loan from Luton Town where he is out of contract in the summer.
Duff said: “It will be at the end of the season. I have not been that far down the line. There are too many things to concentrate on. I think the players are fully aware of that as well.”