Barnsley U23s travel to Watford for their final game of the Professional Development League campaign on Tuesday afternoon knowing that victory could see them finish the season in sixth place.
The young Reds can climb back above Nottingham Forest, providing Jimmy Gilligan’s side lose at southern champions Ipswich Town on Monday evening.
It has been a productive second half of the campaign for Martin Devaney’s side, who had accumulated just ten points from their opening 12 games before hitting an incredible run of form.
Since a morale-boosting win over Sheffield Wednesday in mid-November, the U23s have lost just one of their last 15 fixtures – amassing 28 points in the process, and are arguably the league’s form side.
There is a steeliness in defence – emphasised by seven clean sheets over this period, compared to just two in the first half of the season. The attacking prowess of Amir Berkovits and Elliot Simoes on the flanks has been added to by the return of Matty Wolfe from injury, giving the young Reds that extra bit of creativity and ruthlessness in the final third.
Barnsley will head to Watford in high spirits having remained unbeaten in their last 11 league outings. Devaney praised his side following the 2-0 victory over Bristol City last week, insisting that the positive performances are a reflection of the attitude shown by the players.
The U23s have twice come from 3-1 behind to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat away to Hull City and Bolton Wanderers, reinforcing the belief and team spirit within the camp. A team once devoid of confidence following a run of four straight defeats earlier this season has been transformed into one that never gives in.
With Barnsley set to go head-to-head with the Hornets at Vicarage Road, it is worth noting how well the Reds have fared while playing at main stadiums this term. Prior to consecutive defeats against Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace earlier in the campaign, the youngsters have gone onto win at Hillsborough and Colchester United, while picking up a point at Millwall before the final home game against Bristol City on Oakwell.
The character that Devaney has spoken so highly of in recent weeks has been evident on the big stage and, against an experienced Lions side at the Den, were unfortunate not to come away with all three points.
Watford, whose first team recently reached the FA Cup final for the first time since 1984, are currently ninth in the south league.
Hayden Mullins’ side head into this game on the back of a 1-0 defeat away to Sheffield Wednesday and haven’t won since 11 January – a 3-0 victory over bottom of the table Colchester.
The Hornets have lost seven of their last eight matches, with a 0-0 draw against Cardiff City the only positive during a run that has seen them score just one goal.
Tuesday’s hosts have perhaps been hampered by players leaving on loan in order to continue their professional development at a high level. Top scorer Michael Folivi is currently with AFC Wimbledon, where he has netted two goals in ten appearances, while midfielder Ashley Charles is temporarily with Barnet.
In two previous meetings between the sides, both teams have won one game each – Barnsley triumphing 2-0 in the last encounter back in September 2017.
You can find out how the young Reds round off their Professional Development League campaign by either attending the game at Vicarage Road, kick-off at 2pm, or by following updates on our official Academy Twitter account: @AcademyBFC.