EIGHT and a half months after Barnsley and Bolton Wanderers met in the League One play-offs, they face each other again as promotion rivals in Lancashire on Saturday afternoon.

Bolton are second, five points clear of the fifth-placed Reds who have played an extra game, and three points off leaders Portsmouth with three games in hand.

The Trotters are the only side Barnsley have not faced so far this season, with the Oakwell game postponed due to Bolton’s international call-ups in October until Tuesday, March 5, just 31 days after this fixture.

Those two matches could be crucial in determining where both sides finish.

It is a vital few days for Barnsley’s promotion push as, after Thuursday night’s transfer deadline, they must focus on a visit to one of their main rivals to reach the Championship.

They need a big reaction from the deeply disappointing home loss to Exeter City which ended an unbeaten run of 11 league games.

What the back three for both teams will be is unclear due to injuries and transfer moves, but Herbie Kane and Luca Connell are likely to return to Barnsley’s midfield which will be a huge boost.

The Reds were narrowly the better side over two legs in the play-offs and, after Nicky Cadden’s opener was cancelled out by the hosts in the first leg, Liam Kitching’s header secured a 1-0 win at Oakwell followed by a pitch invasion.

While Barnsley would agonisingly lose at Wembley then see a big portion of that team leave, especially in defensive areas, Bolton kept the majority of their side other than loan stars James Trafford and Conor Bradley who are now playing in the Premier League.

Ian Evatt’s side have been near the top of the league all season.

Bolton have won six out of seven league games including a 4-1 success at Carlisle United on Saturday. They lost on penalties after a 0-0 draw at Blackpool in the EFL Trophy quarter-final on Tuesday.

Bolton have the best defensive record in the division, although 17 of the 26 goals they have let in have been at home.

They have won ten of their 14 home league games this season with only Blackpool collecting more home points than their 31.

But they were beaten 4-0 at home by local rivals Wigan in August, drew 1-1 with fellow promotion challengers Peterborough in September, were stunned 3-1 at home by lowly Carlisle in October then lost 2-1 to mid-table Bristol Rovers in December.

Barnsley have an excellent away record with just one defeat and eight wins from their 13 games on the road so far.

The clubs have met 47 times, with Barnsley winning 14 and losing 18.

The last time the Reds won in a regular league fixture was in the Premier League in 1997 at Oakwell – through a Georgi Hristov winner – after which they have drawn seven and lost eight of 15 league meetings.

Barnsley have never won a league game at Bolton’s current stadium but did triumph 2-1 there in the FA Cup last season – with an own goal and an Adam Phillips screamer – either side of a 0-0 stalemate in the league and the play-off draw.

Their last ten league visits to Bolton have brought six draws and four defeats since a 3-2 win in 1994 with Andy Payton netting the winner.

Their 21 league games in Bolton ever have brought two wins – the other in 1982 thanks to goals by Alan Birch and Ronnie Glavin – eight draws and 11 defeats.