Barnsley boss Lee Johnson has no doubts his side are “up for the battle” in what promises to be a thrilling finish to the League One season.
Resurgent Reds have turned around their campaign with a commendable seven-game unbeaten run that has taken them to sixth in the table. But with just nine games remaining, Johnson doesn’t yet know whether his players have got the mental strength to achieve a previously unlikely play-off berth come the 2nd May when the season is due to finish.
“I hope so, but we don’t know yet because we haven’t seen them enough,” admitted Johnson, ahead of today’s home clash with second-placed Preston North End. But what I do know it that they’re certainly up for the battle.
“You can never fully say what’s going to happen in any individual match, but what I do feel is that over the period of the next nine games we’ll give it everything to get in there [into the play-offs].
Six successive wins – the first time the club had achieved the feat in nearly 35 years – and a battling away draw with Leyton Orient last Saturday at the Matchroom Stadium has understandably given Johnson confidence that his side can finish in the top six this term.
But the 33-year-old knows that the hard work has only just begun with his team set to play three clubs in the top five over the next three Saturdays.
Preston are gunning for an automatic promotion and beat the Reds 1-0 earlier in the season at Deepdale, while tough clashes with League leaders Bristol City and then fifth-place South Yorkshire derby rivals Sheffield United follow for Johnson’s charges.
“They’re [Preston] a strong side,” said Johnson. “The biggest thing with the is that they have a strong squad because they’ve invested heavily.
“They had a good year in League One last year and they’ve got a good manager [Simon Grayson] who knows the division.
“Simon has an exceptional reckon in League One and, actually, I remember I nearly signed for him when he was manager at Blackpool and at Leeds.
“I’ve been quite close to him for a really long time now. As a player he was always a manager I wanted to play for.
“Everything is positive for them, but they’re coming here and we’re certainly not going to lie down and die. We’ll be up and at them – and we’ll be ready to chase them down.
“We certainly need four or five wins from our remaining nine games, and get a couple of draws as well, to probably nick one of those play-off spots as well.”
Slovakian winger Milan Lalkovic is missing this weekend as he starts his three-match ban for a red card against the O’s on Tuesday night, but centre-backs Peter Ramage and Jean-Yves M’voto are available for selection having recovered from injury and sickness respectively.
“I thought he was unlucky, but there was no grounds for an appeal unfortunately with Milan,” revealed Johnson.