Leeds made it three in a row with a 2-1 win at Black­burn

Barns­ley boy has Scot­tish medal

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Joshua Richards

BOT­TOM of the ta­ble at the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber, Barns­ley fans were brac­ing them­selves for a life out­side League One next sea­son.

Fast for­ward three months and they will be think­ing the same, but now it’s the likes of Mo­lineux and El­land Road they will hope to be vis­it­ing next term, rather than plan­ning trips to Rod­ney Pa­rade and The Hive.

In the 13 league games that pre­ceded yes­ter­day’s visit of Southend United, Barns­ley had dropped just four points. Vic­tory at Wal­sall last Satur­day moved them to sixth place.

And, with the Tykes now fight­ing at the right end of the ta­ble, in-form mid­fielder Mar­ley Watkins ad­mits he would be gut­ted if they didn’t make the play-offs now. “The ta­bles have turned!” said the 25-year-old.

“I al­ways knew we had a good team, and at the start of the sea­son I was think­ing: ‘How are we do­ing so badly?’

“But the ta­ble doesn’t lie. We de­served to be where we were and we took a bit of stick. But I knew we wouldn’t go down. We stuck to­gether and now we are see­ing the ben­e­fit.

“It takes time for play­ers to gel and get used to each other, but we are there now.

“I would be gut­ted if we didn’t make the play-offs. I don’t want to put too much pres­sure on us, but we need to keep our per­for­mances go­ing.”

The turn­around at Oak­well has been all the more ex­tra­or­di­nary when you con­sider there was a man­age­rial change in the midst of their pur­ple patch.

Lee John­son was poached by Bris­tol City last month, and the Barns­ley man­age­rial reins were sud­denly thrust upon 38-year-old Paul Heck­ing­bot­tom.

The for­mer de­fender is cur­rently in care­taker charge, but he has quickly won over Watkins.

“I liked play­ing un­der Lee John­son,” Watkins added.

“He was a qual­ity man­ager, but he left the club in a good way and Paul Heck­ing­bot­tom is a top man too.

“He’s not just car­ried on Lee’s work, he’s added bits in. But he was al­ways in­volved with the first team when Lee John­son was here and I think that’s what has made the tran­si­tion so smooth.

“Ev­ery­one re­spects him and wants to do well for him, and he has the sup­port of Tommy Wright, who is qual­ity in his own way.

“We al­ways have a game plan and ev­ery­one knows his role. We’ve got a lot of qual­ity in the team and con­fi­dence is high.”

As well as a pro­mo­tion push, Barns­ley fans have the small mat­ter of a John­stone’s Paint Tro­phy fi­nal at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium fast ap­proach­ing.

Watkins’ last ac­tion for for­mer club In­ver­ness Cale­do­nian This­tle was scor­ing in the Scot­tish Cup fi­nal win over Falkirk last May.

He ad­mits he wasn’t ex­pect­ing such an oc­ca­sion to come up again so soon.

“I had am­bi­tions to play as high as pos­si­ble, but I found the SPL was not as re­spected as per­haps I thought it was,” he said.

“My plan was to go there, tear it up and maybe get a move to the Cham­pi­onship, but I was wrong.

“I made the right move, though. Barns­ley are a mas­sive club and I’m de­lighted to be here.The Wem­b­ley fi­nal is an­other thing to look for­ward to. It’s a new ex­pe­ri­ence for a lot of us.

“Who­ever wants it most on the day will win. That will be my mes­sage to the boys.

“No-one re­mem­bers how you per­formed in a cup fi­nal. They re­mem­ber whether you won or lost, and we need to have the de­sire to win. I’ve got no doubt our play­ers can han­dle it.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

CARE­TAKER: Paul Heck­ing­bot­tom TURN­ING TA­BLES: Mar­ley Watkins has played a part as Barns­ley now fight for pro­mo­tion in­stead of bat­tle for sur­vival

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