Home is where the heart is for Barnsley star
Defender Marc Roberts is desperate to get his home town club back into the second tier of English football.
The Barnsley born centre-back has been a rock for the Reds in the second half of this season, forming a formidable partnership with Alfie Mawson.
His side travel to Walsall tonight after a 3-0 win in the first leg of their play-off semi-final; they are 90 minutes away from a return to Wembley having already been victorious there in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in April.
No team in the history of the Football League play-offs has held a 3-0 advantage after the first leg and failed to reach the final. And Roberts has been pressing home to his peers just how much it would mean to the supporters to see their side at the national stadium again.
“It means a lot to everybody, everybody wants to win - they’re playing for Barnsley Football Club” he said.
“But coming from Barnsley like me and Paul [Heckingbottom, caretaker manager] it does mean that little bit extra.
“I know a lot of Barnsley fans as well so we can be the voice between them. For all the lads it would be a great achievement but for myself personally it would be a really proud moment.
“There’s always a bit of an expectation in Barnsley because it’s a big club. We were bottom at Christmas, that was definitely below expectations.
“We’ve been able to relax and play our game and whatever happens, happens from there. It’s snowballed, we’ve ended up in the position we’re in and long may it continue and get to Wembley” said Roberts.
“The fans stuck with us when we were having that bad period. It’s great for them and hopefully we can finish the job.”
Barnsley have enjoyed plenty of big game experience this season, having defeated Oxford United at Wembley for their first piece of silverware in over 100 years.
That could yet prove to be a dress rehearsal for the main event; should the Reds maintain their advantage over Walsall, a mouth-watering match-up with Millwall or Bradford awaits. And Roberts has stressed the importance of drawing upon all the experience gained in the capital ahead of a potential return.
He added: “It’s a funny one because it’s a strange atmosphere down there.
“We’ve been there before and hopefully if and when we get there that will stand us in good stead. With the experience we had in the JPT final hopefully we’ll be able to set off right. We had a bit of nerves early doors when we played down there and hopefully that will be out of our system.
“It’s another one off game if we get there and it will be tough regardless.”
Caretaker boss Heckingbottom labelled Walsall a ‘wounded animal’ after the first leg and the Saddlers have nothing to lose this evening.
The former Reds full-back is expected to name and unchanged side, although Aidy White is pushing for a recall having missed the tail end of the season through injury.
The ex-Rotherham and Leeds man did come off the bench in the first leg and could feature in the latter stages of the contest as the backline is likely to need some shoring up with the expected onslaught from the hosts.
Meanwhile, Barnsley have swooped to secure their second summer signing, bringing in striker Stefan Payne on a free transfer.
The 24-year-old netted 18 times in 44 league appearances for Dover Athletic this season as they narrowly missed out on promotion to League Two.
And having spent a season with Fulham earlier in his career before plying his trade in the lower leagues, Payne is determined to make the most of his second chance at stepping up a level.
“When I was younger I got the opportunity and didn’t really take it,” admitted the former Gillingham and Aldershot forward.
“I went the long way and I had to go down to come back up. Now I’ve worked very hard to get myself in the Football League and I’ll push on from there.
“Barnsley is a big club. I remember when I was younger watching football and Barnsley were in the Premier League so to have the opportunity to sign for a club like Barnsley, I’m going to take it with both hands.”