BARNSLEY will hope to make a winning start to Christmas week when they host League One’s surprise package this season in Stevenage from 3pm.

Stevenage – managed by veteran boss Steve Evans – are making a bid for a second successive promotion.

The Hertfordshire club – who have never played Barnsley before – are currently fifth, a point off the top two and five clear of the seventh-placed Reds who have two games in hand.

They are unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions, winning eight and drawing five. They have not lost in nine league games, winning five, but were held 1-1 at home to lowly Exeter City on Saturday.

They have won their last three away league games and have the second best record on the road this season with 22 points – one more than the Reds.

Barnsley have the 15th best home record in the division after drawing 1-1 at home to Charlton Athletic on Saturday.

The stats show that Stevenage are a very direct team. They have won the most headers in the division but have made the fewest passes. Head coach Neill Collins told the Chronicle: “If I was to sit here and say we expect a lot of long balls, people would be saying I am calling Steve Evans’ team a long ball team as if there is something wrong with that. They are excellent, really well-organised, they attack in numbers and press – a lot of the things top teams do. They do get the ball forward quickly but then they play good football.”

He added: “They have a manager who knows how to win games. They have a very experienced team but a team that is working ever so hard. They have good players and the momentum you get from promoted teams. They know what they are good at.”

Given Stevenage’s style of play, is Collins tempted to play the tall Kacper Lopata in the back three in place of captain Jordan Williams who could move back to right wing-back?

“It’s always a consideration. Kacper did very well before his injury

“Corey (O’Keeffe) has come into the team and done really well (at right wing-back), and shown all the right signs in the past two performances.

“From time to time we have missed Kacper’s aerial dominance.

“I expect him to come into the team in the next few games at some point.”

Stevenage have one of the top-scorers in the division in Jamie Reid.

The 29-year-old – who had never played in League One or above before this season and netted ten in League Two last season – has 17 goals in all competitions and 13 in the league.

That puts him third in the scoring charts, one ahead of Barnsley’s Devante Cole.

Reid could be partnered by former Barnsley striker Kane Hemmings who spent the 2014/15 season with the Reds.

He played at Oakwell in the EFL Cup for Tranmere Rovers in August before signing for Stevenage later in the summer window.

Stevenage were a non-league club until 2010 when they achieved back-to-back promotions then made the League One play-off semi-final which they lost to a Sheffield United side including Collins. They went down to League Two in 2014 and were spared relegation back into non-league in 2020 when Macclesfield Town were deducted points following an EFL appeal so went down instead.

Evans took over in March last year and took them out of the League Two relegation zone with four wins from the last seven games. He then led them to second place last season, securing automatic promotion.

The only times Evans – who managed Crawley, Rotherham, Leeds and Gillingham – has faced Barnsley were when the Reds did the double over his Peterborough side in 2018/19 without conceding a goal.

This game is due to be Herbie Kane’s 100th for Barnsley.