NEILL Collins says Barnsley’s recent break from games has ‘come at a good time’ and that ‘automatic promotion is still in our grasp’ going into a very busy final month of the league season.

The Reds are fifth in League One, seven points off the automatic promotion places with two games in hand on second-placed Derby County, and nine clear in the top six.

They have not played in 13 days, following a 0-0 home draw with Cheltenham Town who are in the relegation zone. Barnsley now have eight matches remaining in the league season starting, over the Easter weekend, with games against two relegation-battlers as they host 20th-placed Cambridge United today then visit Burton Albion, currently 19th, on Monday.

Both of their opponents this weekend are three points above the relegation zone having collected a point and two goals from their last seven games.

Collins told the Chronicle: “We have asked a lot of the players. Adam Philips and Mael de Gevigney come to mind as well as Devante Cole and Jordan Williams. They have played a lot. The whole group put in a lot of effort.

“The break seems to have come at the right time to have some time away. Since they have come back they have been buzzing. They can see the end line now and they have put themselves in a great position to make a go for it.

“As always the proof will be in the pudding in terms of how we finish the season but we’ve made the most of it and I think it came at a right time.”

Barnsley have collected just four points from their last four games which saw the gap to the top two grow but Derby’s shock loss at Northampton Town on Saturday appears to have opened up the race for second again.

Collins told the Chronicle: “We’re still in there with a great chance. There is not much room for error but that’s the same for everyone else.

“We’ll try to win the next game and there will be dropped points here or there. Derby have points on the board but not the same amount of games to play. That gives us the chance to catch them. It’s exciting with eight games to go and automatic promotion is still in our grasp. I think the players will thrive on that.”

He added: “There are no foregone conclusions. That’s why people turn up and watch. Even I am guilty of thinking games are foregone conclusions.

“Derby going to Northampton is a tough game, anything can happen.

“We just need to give ourselves as many chances a possible and hope other teams struggle more than us. The team that handles it best will sit at the top.”

Captain Jordan Williams was dropped to the bench for the draw with Cheltenham, having started 66 successive league games and previously played every minute of this season.

Top-scorer Devante Cole has been on the bench for the last two matches, having previously started every league game this season and netted 17 goals.

But he has not scored in his last nine games across almost two months.

Corey O’Keeffe and Sam Cosgrove started in place of Williams and Cole respectively against the Robins.

Collins said: “Jordan has played a huge amount of minutes. He’s played the most for us with Devante just behind him.

“It’s a mental rest for these guys, not having to go again and lead the team.

“They are both back ready to go.

“It’s a sign of the two great team-mates they are that they were right behind the lads from the bench.”

Midfielder Herbie Kane can come back into the team against Cambridge having been suspended for the last two games.

Collins said: “It’s a huge boost. Jon Russell should take credit for his performances while Herbie was out. Jon has had good moments but maybe not the consistency he would like.

“That’s down to the other players in that position.

“Getting Herbie back at this point is big for us.”

While Barnsley are hosting Cambridge, Portsmouth visit Wycombe, Derby host Blackpool, Bolton will be at Stevenage and Peterborough welcome bottom club Carlisle United. On Monday, when the Reds are at Burton, Peterborough visit Leyton Orient and Bolton host Reading before Portsmouth welcome Derby on Tuesday evening.