As Barnsley aim to continue their play-off push this weekend, Caretaker Head Coach Paul Heckingbottom spoke to the media about the challenge Southend United pose.
With only one defeat in all competitions since the turn of the year, Heckingbottom’s side have moved away from the relegation zone and into play-off contention.
Heckingbottom insists that the current run of results has had no effect on his players and that their focus remains firmly fixed on the Shrimpers this weekend.
He said: “The focus hasn’t changed, questions we get asked are changing and I’ve said to the lads it can become a distraction.
“This week we’re being asked about a promotion push but if we get beaten on Saturday, we’ll be asked if that’s the run over and that’s as fickle as it is.
“It can be distracting but you have to deal with it and know what’s got you where you are and what’s getting you the results, but the focus is game by game - not positions and league tables or play-offs, it’s on the next game and getting better all the time.”
Striker Sam Winnall missed the trip to Walsall through injury but the Caretaker Head Coach is hopeful of him being back in time to face Phil Brown’s side this weekend.
“Sam has not trained with the side yet but he’s determined to get back and done everything that the medical team have expected of him," he continued.
“He’s determined to make himself available to play on Saturday. You want to reward that type of character and he’s desperate to get back for Saturday and into a winning team.”
Full-backs Aidan White and James Bree remain absentees with respective ankle and hamstring problems but Adam Hammill could return this weekend after a ban.
Heckingbottom assessed their problems and gave a rough timescale for their expected return.
“James is progressing well, the results from the scan weren’t what we expected but there’s some real positive feedback we can have him back sooner rather than later.
“We have to take our time with him and a hopeful guess is he’ll be back within two to three weeks but realistically it will be four to five weeks.
“Aidan is also progressing well, he does all he can to get fit and is another who is determined to play and I’m sure we’ll see him back on the training pitch.
“It’s great to have everyone back, it would just be great if they were all back, Sam, James, Ryan Williams and Aidy.
“Then you’re picking a team on form or have match-winners to come on or start. Between now and the end of the season we have some massive games and we’ll be using everyone.”
The positive run of form has earned Heckingbottom recognition throughout the division, earning a nomination for League One’s Manager of the Month award with three wins, a draw and one defeat to his name in February.
Coupled with this, centre-back Alfie Mawson has received a nomination for the division’s Player of the Month award.
The Caretaker Head Coach praised Mawson’s contribution during the run but did not believe that he himself had been nominated.
“I thought I was being wound up,” he joked. “What’s more deserved about that is Alfie’s nomination because he’s been superb and it’s the players that have got the results.
“It’s only fair we have one of our players in there. It’s a bit unjust if it’s my name without any players, and he’s one of a few that has been fantastic.,” he added
Southend are another side pushing for a play-off spot and Heckingbottom assessed the potential threats they pose to the Reds.
“It will be similar to when we played them before in how they will play and their results have been indifferent of late,” he said.
“They had a fantastic win against Burton and that’s the side I’m expecting to turn up. At their best, they’re very good but we have to have knowledge to impose our game-plan on them.”