Barnsley’s upcoming play-off semi-final clashes with Walsall will be the biggest of Paul Heckingbottom’s fledgling managerial career.
The caretaker Reds boss masterminded the club’s first taste of silverware in over 100 years when they lifted the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley last month.
He stepped up to take the reigns when Lee Johnson left for Bristol City in February, and a seamless transition saw the team’s rise up the League One table continue.
Heckingbottom, 38, is in his second stint as temporary chief, and knows that a return to the Championship is the ultimate prize for his hometown club.
“I didn’t play the JPT down because I loved it to bits,” said the former Development Squad Manager. “It’s our first bit of silverware for 100 years but these games are actually bigger.
“In terms of the prize for the players’ careers and the prize for the football club, these upcoming games now are even bigger but we knew that.
“A lot of people can be proud of the work they’ve put in and what they’ve achieved. We always said ‘let’s be in it in the last game of the season’ and we were. That’s always been our goal and luckily enough we managed to fulfil it.
“That’s one box ticked, we’ve got another one to try and cross, and then on to a final so we’ve got a big hurdle in front of us in Walsall.
“They finished third and they’ve been up there all season so we know the job in hand, but again we’ll approach it the same way we have been doing.”
The Reds have a home tie on Saturday to kick off the two-legged semi-final against the Saddlers, before travelling to the Banks’s Stadium five days later for the return fixture.
Heckingbottom’s men have played a total of 56 games so far this season, but he says they will be doing all they can to keep the players in prime condition for one last push.
“There’ll be a few tired limbs and a few tired bodies,” he added. “We’ve just got over that hectic period and now we’re coming into a new one.”