Barnsley: Reds play-off success so much more important than JPT glory
Caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom reckons Barnsley's second trip to Wembley this season is massively more important than their first.
The Reds face a tough test against Millwall in the Sky Bet League One Play-off Final on Sunday, less than two months on from their memorable Johnstone’s Paint Trophy triumph at the national stadium.
It was their first piece of silverware in more than 100 years, and Heckingbottom’s side used that momentum and positivity to continue their assault on the play-off places.
They secured a sixth- place finish, thrashed Walsall 6-1 over the two-legged semi-final and are now 90 minutes away from a return to the Championship.
“Everything is bigger about the play-offs,” admitted Heckingbottom, who earned promotion to the second tier as a Barnsley player ten years ago.
“Not only the prize at the end financially for the club and for the players, but the bigger prize of bigger opposition, better quality football, and away games at bigger stadiums.
“It’s a cup final after 46 rounds and a two-legged semi, and that, along with the prize, brings its own unique tension, adrenaline and excitement for everyone involved. That’s what makes it when you win even sweeter.
“You’d go through so many defeats just to get that one play-off win because they are special, and until you experience them you can’t really describe it because it is different.”
The Reds’ rise from the depths of the relegation zone to the brink of English football’s second tier has been the talk of the town.
More than 25,000 made the journey down the M1 to Wembley for the JPT Final, and the Oakwell faithful are expected to snap up the majority of the 36,411 tickets allocated for Sunday’s season finale.
Heckingbottom was born and raised in Barnsley and admitted he has a great deal of pride in the current relationship between his players and the fans.
“The real pleasing thing I’ve seen, especially since the turn of the year, is the connection between the fans and the players now,” he added.
“I hear it and see it when I’m walking out and about - they’re really loving what they’re seeing. The results are a product of the hard work, but it’s the hard work and the commitment that the lads are showing that’s really connecting with the fans.
“It’s really pleasing for me because that’s something I believe massively; that we as a team have to reflect the identity of the town and the people and the fans.
“We have to perform in a way they can understand, and behave in a way they understand and appreciate.”