Twenty-eight points might separate them in the table but Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, expects Barnsley to push his players to their absolute limits at Oakwell today.
Because, as he acknowledged before a match likely to shape events at both ends of the table, they are cut from the same cloth, boast the same psychological make-up, as the promotion chasing visitors.
“The mentality of their players is the same as ours,” Wilder said. “Because, like here, a lot of them have come from the lower leagues. They’re hungry, they’re enthusiastic and they’re fighting for their lives. Without being disrespectful, because we are similar, there’s no star names there. It’s all about the team.”
Barnsley, who have slipped to 22nd in the table after winning only once in 13 games, know a repeat of August’s defeat at Bramall Lane could see them cut adrift in the battle for survival if Bolton Wanderers, Hull City and a resurgent Birmingham all win. Wilder acknowledges that makes them dangerous opposition but equally, as United chase a place in the Championship play-offs, the type of side the visitors must beat following creditable but ultimately frustrating draws against Brentford and Cardiff City over the Easter period.
“Whoever we play, they’ve got something to play for,” Wilder said. “Brentford knew they needed to win one stroke two games over the Bank Holiday to be in the play-off race. Then on Monday, if they’d have won, they’d have taken a huge step forward to getting into the Premier League. And we know how life-changing that is. Now we’ve got a team that’s fighting to stay in the Championship.”
“They’ll be thinking: ‘Are we going to be playing Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and Leeds. Are Rotherham coming up? Or are we going to be in League One?’” Wilder added. “Financially, it’s massive. Our goal is to get to places like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. That’s what we’re telling the players. If they hold their nerve over the next six games, then we’ve got a one in four chance of doing it.”
With the fixture scheduled to kick-off at lunchtime, Wilder described it as an opportunity to exert some psychological pressure on United’s rivals for a top six finish.
“We love these early kick-offs but only if we get a win,” Wilder, whose side are ninth, said. “Our boys came in at a quarter to four on Monday and they had the TV on getting changed. Of course you take an interest, because it’s your future.”
“That’s how it is, in terms of pressure, you have to deal with it,” he added. “Especially in the Championship because of the schedule, when you can play Saturday lunchtime, evening, Sunday and even Friday. We want to put pressure on the other teams.”