NEILL Collins says Saturday's game at home to fellow promotion-chasers Derby County is not a ‘must-win’ but victory could be ‘important’ for their top two chances.

The Reds are fourth in League One, 12 points off leaders Portsmouth, who have played two extra games, and seven clear in the top six following their 2-1 win at lowly Fleetwood Town on Saturday.

Derby are second, six points clear of Barnsley who have played one game fewer, while they have the best defensive record and best away record in the division. The Reds have lost two of their last 22 games and Derby two of 19.

Collins told the Chronicle: “It’s not a must-win because there are 13 games left and we have a game in hand. But if we don’t win we would have to win a lot more games after that.

“If we have realistic ambitions of challenging, a win would be important.

“Derby don’t drop many points. The top six are all pretty consistent.”

As of midway through this week, more than 17,000 tickets had been sold – including more than 5,000 in the away end – so it will be the largest Oakwell crowd of the season by thousands. The Reds are hoping to replicate the atmosphere from their 4-1 home win over Derby almost a year ago to the day last season on February 25. Like last year, fans are encouraged to bring red and white scarves to the match.

Collins praised the Reds faithful for their support during the last home game with Leyton Orient when they came from 1-0 down on 87 minutes to win 2-1.

“I can’t wait. The last time we were here was a great day, scoring the late goal with ten men to beat Leyton Orient.

“The fans were fantastic that day, it was a collective effort, and we’re going to need the same again on Saturday.

“To have 18 and a half thousand here and lots going on, it will be a special atmosphere and. We want to lift that even more with our performance.

“The players will realise the magnitude of the game and that should make for a great game.”

Barnsley had struggled against fellow promotion challengers earlier in the season but have beaten Stevenage and Oxford while drawing at Peterborough and Bolton.

Collins said: “We should have beaten Bolton and Peterborough as well. Fine margins dictate these games. If we’re being picky, we just need to turn those good performances into victories. That is the challenge on Saturday – to perform at the same level but capitalise on that by not giving anything cheap away.”

Barnsley were beaten 3-0 at Derby on November 11, only losing once since in the league. Collins has said it was the only match this season when his side did not keep believing until the final whistle, while it is the only game under him in which they did not score.

Collins said: “We never gave ourselves a chance from the start.

“It was a real learning moment in the season for me and the team. Since then we have been vastly improved.

“That result and performance highlighted a couple of things we needed to make sure didn’t happen again.”

On Derby in general, Collins said: “They have a fantastic squad with a very good manager. We can expect a really really tough prospect. They do both sides of the game well. They can play, they have players who can hurt you, they are good from set pieces, they have physicality. It’s one of the toughest games we will face.

“They play some great football at times because they have good players like Conor Hourihane and (Max) Bird, but they can also play direct.”

After this match, and their trip to Wycombe the following Saturday, Barnsley’s next home game is also against a top six rival when Bolton Wanderers visit on Tuesday, March 5.

“It’s great to be in this situation at this time in the season and be challenging for the top two. If you had offered us the home games with Bolton and Derby and we’re competing for the top two, we would have been happy with that. Now we have to capitalise on it.”

Weston Park Cancer Charity will ‘take over’ Oakwell for the Derby game as part of the ‘Together At Every Step’ partnership. The charity will bring a bus with healthcare professionals and welfare advisers, while the Reds will be fund-raising in various ways including auctioning off special shirts which the players will warm up in.

Applause is planned in the 64th minute for Reds fan Richard Atkinson who died on Sunday.