Barnsley’s season is now both a marathon and a sprint.

The league campaign will be finished in less than a month but, in that time, the Reds are due to play eight games and travel more than 1,000 miles.

They could then participate in the play-offs, which looks marginally the most likely outcome but the race for second is still wide open.

When they surged into a 2-0 lead at home to Bolton Wanderers on March 5, Barnsley were arguably favourites to finish second in League One as they were on excellent form and had games in hand on their rivals.

But a poor last half an hour led to a 98th-minute leveller, the first of a trio of home disappointments – including the 5-1 thrashing by Lincoln and 0-0 draw with lowly Cheltenham – which saw them slip down to fifth.

Some ruled out the top two but Derby’s shock loss at mid-table Northampton Town on Saturday left the Reds seven points off second with two games in hand and reminded everyone that there will be plenty of twists and turns in the race for automatic promotion.

It looks very close between the Reds, the Rams, third-placed Bolton – who are three points above Barnsley with a game in hand – and Peterborough who are above the Oakwell club on goal difference. Derby’s fixtures look particularly tough as they play top ten sides Blackpool, Portsmouth – the runaway leaders – and Leyton Orient in the next four. Posh and Bolton face each other on the last day.

The Reds may well need to win at least six of their last eight games to have a chance of automatic promotion, their best form of the season.

If not they are likely to have some dead rubbers in the final weeks, unless they somehow squander a nine-point cushion inside the top six which seems unlikely.

For now they must focus on taking six points off two relegation-battlers over Easter.

After hosting Cambridge on Good Friday, the Reds play five out of six games away from home. That would usually be a daunting run-in but Barnsley have been much better on the road this season – closing in on several club records – than at Oakwell so it may suit them.

They surely will need to win all three remaining home games to have a chance of the top two but, even if they miss out on that, they need to start to build more momentum and belief at Oakwell going into the play-offs.

While they have been superb away, their home record is more like that of a mid-table plodder while their defensive record there resembles a relegation-battler.

Home or away, they need to tighten up defensively. They are conceding roughly four shots per game more than they did last season while their goalkeepers have made the most saves of any team’s stoppers in League One.

Mixed fixtures against relegation battlers and promotion-chasers

Barnsley will be huge favourites to beat Cambridge and Burton this weekend but that was the case against Cheltenham in the last match which ended 0-0.

They then visit Charlton on April 6, who looked in danger of dropping into the fourth tier for the first time ever last month but are now nine points and five places clear of the drop zone after an eight-match unbeaten run under former Luton, Stoke and Southampton manager Nathan Jones.

Three days later the Reds return to Stevenage to hopefully play the fixture that was controversially called off in January.

Steve Evans’ side have slipped down to seventh, after a five-match winless run.

Barnsley’s only home game in 29 days is against Reading on April 13, a fixture which has been a 1-1 draw the last four times it has been played at Oakwell. The Royals, despite being in a financial crisis and docked points regularly, are three places and six points of the relegation zone and will hope to be safe by the time they arrive at Oakwell, where they have not lost in ten visits since 1998.

Barnsley then make a third long trip in ten days on Tuesday, April 16 when they travel down to Portsmouth who could potentially be promoted that week or even that night, if they continue their current form. Pompey visit Bolton three days earlier on April 13.

The Reds’ last away game of the season is at Blackpool on April 20, a match in which the hosts will hope to be still in the fight for the lower play-off places and Barnsley will look to be well above it.

The Reds complete the league season at home to mid-table Northampton on April 27 which could be a dead rubber or part of a fascinating conclusion to the race for second place.

Settled team needed after break to refresh following disappointments

When Barnsley hosted Derby then Bolton about a month ago, they had what most people might call their full-strength team available.

Donovan Pines was in the middle of the back three, Jordan Williams at right wing-back, they boasted one of the strongest midfields in the division and played league top-scorer Devante Cole alongside John McAtee up front.

But Pines picked up season-ending injury in that game then Herbie Kane collected a tenth booking in the following match – earning a two-game ban.

Neill Collins dropped top-scorer Cole, who is on a nine-game goalless streak, and captain Williams who had played every minute but made some costly errors.

The performances against Lincoln, Carlisle and Cheltenham were disappointing before this much-needed 13-day break.

They can now welcome back Kane with Robbie Cundy, Josh Benson and Fabio Jalo set to strengthen the depth in the squad.

Cole and Williams, among others, have had two weeks without a game to recharge then come back for the final straight with more energy, concentration and ruthlessness.

The first 11, when all fit and firing, is surely a match for any third tier side but they must play together more regularly before the conclusion of the season. Of course it is a busy schedule so the back-up players may also be needed at times and they have to perform better than in some previous games.

Pines’ injury is a huge disappointment after the January signing played just four games and looked to add the physical presence the Reds lacked all season.

But it is now up to Mael de Gevigney, Jamie McCart or the returning Robbie Cundy to make sure he is not missed too much.

Another busy summer expected at Oakwell with several regulars out of contract at end of season

Whatever happens in April and May, there could be plenty of change yet again at Oakwell in the summer.

Head coach Neill Collins will be midway through a two-year contract and, if he reaches the end of it, he will become the first Barnsley boss to complete two full seasons since Simon Davey from 2007-09.

Regular starters Devante Cole, Jordan Williams, Herbie Kane and Nicky Cadden, are all out of contract in the summer, while the future of loanees such as Liam Roberts and John McAtee is unclear.

Players like Adam Phillips, Luca Connell and Fabio Jalo are likely to be of interest to other clubs.

The chances of keeping most of those players would increase significantly with promotion. If they do not go up, it could be the reverse of last summer in that the back three remains the same but there is change in nearly every other position.

Another season in League One would put more financial strain on the club and require more investment from the owners who have injected millions in equity since relegation, or more money generated from player sales.

Whatever happens they will need some clever recruitment decisions from new sporting director Mladen Sormaz.

They will certainly hope for a better window than the last.

Of the January signings, Josh Earl has had a mixed start to life at Oakwell, Donovan Pines looked good then was unluckily injured while Conor Grant has not started a game and they did not bring in the extra striker they wanted with the squad remaining light in attacking depth.

There are a raft of players under contract beyond the summer who have disappointed to various extents and for differing reasons - like Jon Russell, Josh Benson, Barry Cotter, Max Watters, Conor McCarthy, Andy Dallas and Oli Shaw. Do the club look to reignite their Reds careers or have a clear-out?

Again much will depend on what division they are in.

Other players out of contract in the summer are Robbie Cundy and Matty Wolfe – both of whom have not played this season due to injury. They have an option to add an extra year to the deals of back-up goalkeeper Ben Killip as well as homegrown duo Aiden Marsh and Joe Ackroyd, while they will need to decide whether to take the option to make Grant’s loan permanent.