IF OFFERED, last summer, the situation of being guaranteed fifth if they beat Northampton at home on the last final, many Barnsley fans would have taken it following a tumultuous off-season with a slew of key departures.

But no one could have imagined that they would go into the game having sacked Neill Collins days earlier following a disastrous run which took them from challenging for the top two to being in serious danger of slipping out of the top six which they have been in for 117 days since January 1.

After winning at Wycombe last month, the Reds were 14 points clear of Lincoln, ten above Oxford and nine ahead of Blackpool – with two games in hand on all three.

The gap is now down one point to Oxford and Lincoln, and two to Blackpool.

If not for Wigan winning at Lincoln last week and Stevenage holding Oxford on Friday, the Reds would already be outside the top six.

They are still in the driving seat but a whole range of warning lights have been appearing on the dashboard and the car is careering across the slippery surface.

When they drew their last home game with Reading, Barnsley needed three points from three games which seemed achievable.

They could have done it at Portsmouth, and got to 83 minutes before ruining a superb performance, or at Blackpool but were inept and well-beaten.

It has to be third time lucky – or third time good at winning football matches – on Saturday.

There is very little in recent games which would give anyone great confidence that they will win but they certainly have the talent to do so, and the shock change of manager might alter the atmosphere in the dressing room and stands.

If they get in the top six, particularly with a win and an encouraging performance when most needed, that will generate momentum and positivity going into the play-offs for which they can reset.


Martin Devaney is set to lead Barnsley into Saturday’s game. He has trained the team all week and is due to conduct a pre-match press conference on Friday.

This is a massive opportunity for the popular former player – and an ambitious coach – who suddenly is in charge of a team who are four wins from the Championship. But he just has to focus on winning this first game, securing a play-off place, then waiting to see if someone else is brought in before the semi-finals.

Devaney also began this season in charge of the team between the exit of his friend Michael Duff and the appointment of Collins.

The last time he was in charge of competitive games was two years ago exactly, when Poya Asbaghi was sacked following relegation with three Championship games remaining. He lost all three games, at home to Blackpool then Preston and away at West Brom. Players declared themselves injured in their droves at the end of an utterly demoralising season.

This time the side is much higher in the league below and not as badly damaged, but there are still serious issues. Devaney must quickly organise a defence that has leaked far too many goals recently, especially from set pieces, and try to find a consistent performance throughout a match which eluded Collins nearly all season.

Most of all he needs to make sure the players are as confident and cool-headed as possible, allowing their ability to win the match. That responsibility is also with the squad who, collectively, have been far from their best for weeks.

It will be interesting to see if Devaney, who spent years as an academy coach and blooded youngsters last time he was caretaker in far less important games, will give a start to the likes of Fabio Jalo or Aiden Marsh who have been on the bench recently.


It could be a very tense day but, despite all the angst and doubts in the Reds fanbase about the club, team and staff, there should be a positive atmosphere from the start given what is at stake.

Many fans seem to agree with the change of coach and are willing to get behind the new look set-up. If the Reds struggle, the simmering unhappiness may bubble up. At Oakwell, they have been distinctly mid-table this season, with the 12th worst record on their own turf while they have not won there in five games since beating Derby County more than two months ago.

In contrast to all the nerves, anxiety and changes that Barnsley are dealing with, Northampton can play with freedom after finishing in mid-table following promotion.

They are set to finish in their second highest position this century.

But they have lost their last two games against relegated Fleetwood and ten man Exeter.