Ahead of Saturday’s play-off first leg with Walsall, Barnsley Caretaker Head Coach Paul Heckingbottom admitted that all previous matches this season count for nothing.
Heckingbottom has led the Reds to a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory and the top six since taking over in February when Lee Johnson joined Bristol City.
He insisted Barnsley must continue with the right attitude and mentality in order to put themselves in a strong position for the second leg.
He said: “All games since the turn of the year mean nothing. It’s one game now over two legs and it’s about approaching it right.
“We’ve done that right more often than not and that’s what we have to build into. They know if they perform and execute a game-plan they’ll be tough to beat which is credit to them.
“The players have worked hard to get there. Usually a couple of minutes in I’m either anxious or relaxed, which I am more often than not and they’ve earnt that.
“This weekend is part of a 180-minute game. Half time on Saturday means we’re a quarter of the way in, full time is half time, we have a four-day team talk and then we’re preparing for the second half,” said the Caretaker Head Coach.
He assessed the size of the challenge that Walsall will hold and praised their efforts over the course of the season, highlighting the threat they possess.
“I wasn’t bothered one little bit that Walsall had won 5-0, we were in the play-offs and that was it. They were coming here Saturday and we’re going there on Thursday, that was it.
“Over the season, they’ve been the most consistent of us four in the play-offs. They have a brand of football which Dean Smith established and Jon Whitney has carried that on.
“If you did a blanket survey of everyone in football, you’d be hard pressed to split us. We’re most similar to Walsall and Bradford and Millwall are similar, which will make for a contrasting final for whoever gets there.
“In terms of that, it’s set up brilliantly but you’d be hard pressed to split anyone.
“We know how they’ll play and what to expect from them but it will make for an entertaining match.”
Heckingbottom has encouraged his players to revel in the distinctive nature of the play-offs but they must be ready for the changes that may occur.
The big-game experience must not play on the minds of his players as he bids to lead them to Wembley Stadium for the second time this season.
He said: “We’re trying to embrace the uniqueness of play-offs and how different they are. There’s lots of different aspects including the weather changes, everybody watches and the prize at stake for the players, the club and the fans.
“We’re trying to enjoy the experience and some more big games.”
Heckingbottom feels that the pressure that comes with the next two matches cannot be a distraction and that side must roll with the punches to enjoy the event more.
“It’s about painting a picture of what the experience is and explaining why it’s new. The fact that every football fan is watching the play-offs now because their season has finished cannot be a distraction.
“Every little thing changes because the focus is on the play-offs and we have to ride that and enjoy it. The pressure and prize are different and we have to roll with it.”
James Bree, Marley Watkins and George Smith are unlikely to be involved through injury but there may be a return to action for Aidan White.
The initial feeling from Heckingbottom is that the side will show very few if any alterations and must replicate the type of performance they showed against Wigan.
“More than likely we’ll be unchanged," he continued. "One thing we emphasised leading up to the Wigan game was a game-plan with the whole squad because you never know who is going to fall when.
“It’s a squad game, we’ve had to chop and change but whoever has come in has responded brilliantly.
“There’s nothing new to report and we’re as we’ve been for the last few games. Aidan White is back in training and the longer we can give him to recover, the more minutes we can give him if he’s needed.
“Those who are missing may not miss the remainder of the season, they’re in a good place for their rehab but the boys in the side are doing well so there’s no need to take any risks at this point,” he added.
The experience will be the fifth play-off experience for Heckingbottom and he is relishing the possibility of more success with the Reds before the season is out.
He hopes as many fans as possible will get Oakwell rocking and will replicate the atmosphere at the Banks’s Stadium next Thursday.
“I’ve done the lot, lost in a semi-final and a Wembley final and won two finals but I’ve loved every one,” he said.
“I’m a massive fan of the play-offs and I’m trying to get the message across but the outcome looks after itself. I’m confident we’ll be okay but as long as we look after ourselves, what more can we do?
“I literally cannot wait,” he added. “The staff are more excited than the players at the minute! Day by day and hour by hour, I’m told of the number of fans coming and queuing, it just goes up and up.
“It’s going to be great. The atmosphere at Wigan was great and Gary Caldwell said afterwards he can’t remember it like that even when Wigan were in the Premier League.
“The players must have enjoyed it and hopefully we can replicate that and take something out of it and take the noisy away fans back to Walsall on Thursday and make for another great atmosphere.”