BARNSLEY stride into March with a real chance of ensuring it is the penultimate month of their season and that they are celebrating automatic promotion in April rather than needing the play-offs in May.

They are three points off the top two but with games in hand and host third-placed Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday, aiming to do the same to them as they did to second-placed Derby County on Saturday.

When Bolton lost at Wigan and Derby were defeated at home to lowly Charlton on Tuesday, the players and staff must have felt some of the excitement the fans experienced but they also know they must take advantage by continuing to win their own games.

They were unbeaten in February with three wins and two draws, surely giving Neill Collins a decent claim to Manager of the Month while in-form midfielder Adam Phillips has a very strong chance of winning the players’ version.

Assuming the sides above do not totally implode, they may well need a points total similar to the club record 91 they recorded when finishing second under Daniel Stendel in 2018/19.

That would probably require at least nine wins from the final 13 matches – a tricky but not impossible task. They are excellent away and much-improved at home, while the character they are showing to come from behind so often is phenomenal. Collins now has what looks like his first choice 11 available and some good options from the bench.

They now enter a month of six scheduled games against either sides in the promotion hunt or the relegation battle – but they must treat all games the same while staying ruthlessly consistent.

Another four wins at least from those six would keep them in a strong position but they will look to win them all.

WYCOMBE WANDERERS, away, tomorrow

The regular season ends next month and Barnsley have lost once away from home in the league.

They have suffered fewer league defeats on their travels than any other side in English professional football, and the club records of 12 away wins and 41 away points are potentially breakable in the coming weeks.

But the trip to Wycombe, possibly overlooked as it is between the huge home games with Derby and Bolton, is a very tough fixture.

The Chairboys have been regular promotion-challengers in League One in recent seasons but find themselves 14th.

They finished 2023 with a 12-match winless run in the league but some much-improved recent form has put them eight points clear of the drop zone. Wycombe have played many of the promotion-chasers recently. They thrashed Peterborough 5-2, conceded a last-minute winner at Bolton, drew with Oxford, then lost 1-0 to Stevenage with ten men.

Adams Park – where they are unbeaten in nine – is always a difficult away day and Wycombe usually direct and physical.


Georgi Hristov was the last Barnsley player to score a league winner against Bolton, in the top flight in 1997, and they need a new hero on Tuesday. Wins in next week’s games could catapult Barnsley into favourites for second place after 35 games.

This will be Bolton’s 16th game in eight weeks while they have played on each of the previous two Tuesdays when Barnsley did not play. If tiredness is a factor, the Reds must make it count with a relentless 90-minute performance.

The Reds were very good at Bolton a month ago and should have taken some of their several chances to increase their lead before conceding against the run of play in a 1-1 draw.

Bolton were generally considered favourites for the title a month ago, including by Neill Collins, but have won just two of eight and lost twice this week to give the Reds a chance to overtake. The games against the Trotters often follow the same pattern with Barnsley looking to press Ian Evatt’s possession-based side who have to decide whether to stick to their principles or go direct as they did at Oakwell last season in a 3-0 win.

LINCOLN CITY, home, March 9

Barnsley’s game at Sincil Bank in November was when some negative chants against Neill Collins could be heard from the away end.

The Reds came from behind to lead 2-1 before conceding a late leveller.

Since then, the relationship between the head coach and supporters has generally been on an upward trajectory – with his name regularly featuring in songs about promotion.

There seemed to be a mass online apology to Collins after the Derby win from his previous critics as it is now undeniable that he is doing a fine job.

The Derby and Bolton games had been billed as back to back meetings with promotion rivals at Oakwell but it could be three in a row as form team Lincoln are eight points off the top six and due to host sixth-placed Stevenage tomorrow.

Michael Skubala’s Imps endured a ten-match winless run but are now unbeaten in nine while they have won five of their last six.

Only leaders Portsmouth have conceded fewer goals than Lincoln this season.

CARLISLE UNITED, away, March 12

Barnsley have not played at Brunton Park since 1985 and have not won there in eight attempts since 1954.

They will be strong favourites for this midweek match as Carlisle are bottom, 13 points adrift of safety.

They had lost eight in a row but won at Burton Albion on Tuesday.

The Cumbrians take on the two teams just above the relegation zone, Reading and Charlton, before hosting the Reds.

Carlisle have scored just once in the first half at home this season, and that was on the opening day.

But they will remember that Barnsley were abysmal in first half against them at Oakwell in January, conceding an early goal and three big missed chances to Daniel Butterworth in the opening 15 minutes before winning 2-1 through a late and disputed penalty. The Reds will surely need to be much better to win this game.

This is the cut-off point for two-game bans for ten bookings. Herbie Kane is on nine and Mael de Gevigney seven.

CHELTENHAM TOWN, home, March 16

There is a respect between the two clubs after the Robins put on a coach home for the Reds who were stranded on the M5 near Cheltenham when their bus caught fire on the way home from Exeter in October.

Barnsley have since helped the relegation-battlers out by loaning defender Jack Shepherd who has helped them to several wins and clean sheets.

He will not be able to play in this match at Oakwell, by which time Darrell Clarke’s side will hope to have dragged themselves out of the relegation zone.

They are three points from safety but have games in hand.

It is an impressive recovery after collecting just two points from their first 12 games of the season, with no goals in their first 11.

PORTSMOUTH, away, March 23

This game has been expected to be moved back to near the end of the season for international call-ups. But most of Portsmouth’s internationals have long-term injuries, while Barnsley’s Fabio Jalo is also out so may not feature for Portugal under 19s. If the Reds do not have the required three call-ups but Jamaica select Devante Cole – who is in the 60-man provisional squad with Jon Russell – the Reds could travel to Fratton Park without their top-scorer in possibly the biggest game of the season.

Portsmouth are seven points clear at the top and, after winning just one of seven games around Christmas-time, they are unbeaten in eight with six wins. But, after drawing at lowly Charlton, they are set to play six of the top nine in the next nine games which could see them dragged back into the fight or run away with the title with weeks to spare.

CAMBRIDGE UNITED, home, March 29

Manager Neill Harris was sacked by League Two Gillingham in October, appointed by League One Cambridge in November then moved to Championship Millwall last week.

Ex-Red Kevin Betsy has been assisting caretaker Barry Corr this week.

The Us, who visit Oakwell on Good Friday, are one of several teams hovering just above the relegation zone.

They are 16th, five points clear of the drop, but teams below have games in hand.

They were beaten 4-0 in October at home to Barnsley who have only done a double over Port Vale so far but can still collect a second victory over Cambridge, Wycombe, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Burton, Stevenage, Reading and Northampton.

Barnsley then play three away games starting at Burton on Easter Monday – managed by last season’s assistant coach Martin Paterson who was previously Neill Collins’ assistant at Tampa Bay Rowdies.

They then make long trips in three days to Charlton on April 6 then Stevenage in a midweek rearranged fixture following the controversial late postponement. They host Reading – currently still in the relegation battle after being docked two more points this week for an unpaid tax bill – and make their last away league trip to Blackpool, who have the best home record and will hope to be in the top six mix, before they finish at home to Northampton who look set for mid-table.