Oakwell will host the first-leg of the League One promotion play-offs, as Barnsley take on Walsall this Saturday night.
During a hit and miss season, promotion candidates Barnsley finished just inside the play-off positions. They clinched sixth spot after a thrilling 4-1 victory against champions Wigan Athletic on the final game of the campaign. Only goal-difference separated them and seventh placed Scunthorpe United.
Caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom, who since his arrival has guided the Tykes to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy glory and the play-offs during his short tenure, will be striving to continue their recent fine form – six games unbeaten for the side who slipped into the relegation zone back in November following an eight-game losing streak.
After the surprise sacking of Sean O’Driscoll in March, Walsall’s good run continued under new boss Jon Whitney, a third place finish with 84 points is evidence that the Saddlers have a squad capable of competing in the Championship.
Crucial to their promotion charge has been 23-year-old striker Tom Bradshaw, called up recently by Wales manager Chris Colemen to be part of his 29-man provisional squad for Euro 2016. Bradshaw’s 20 league goals this term fired the Saddlers to within one point of automatic promotion.
In the league fixtures between the two sides, both picked up away victories against each other. Walsall’s 2-0 win at Oakwell in October piled misery onto a Tykes outfit that hadn’t won in a month.
However in the opposing game, Heckingbottom’s men won 3-1 – which lifted them into the play-off zone.
With both sides showing good end of season form, the Oakwell crowd could be in for a entertaining encounter. However, Walsall’s 5-0 thrashing of Port Vale last weekend – their biggest win in five years – makes them favourites this Saturday.
Barnsley caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom could name an unchanged side for the fourth game in a row.
Teenager James Bree and fellow defender George Smith both remain doubtful due to hamstring injuries. Meanwhile Ryan Williams and Marley Wakins are still sidelined.
The Saddlers have a nearly full squad to choose from.
Only Reece Flanagan is absent after the midfielder ruptured his anterior cruciate knee ligaments, which will rule him out until August.
League Position: Barnsley- 6th (74pts); Walsall- 3rd (84pts)
Previous Meeting: Walsall 1-3 Barnsley – March 5, 2016
Form: Barnsley – WDWDDW; Walsall – WDLWWW
Key Men: Barnsley – Sam Winnall; Walsall – Tom Bradshaw
Shoot Says: Barnsley 2-2 Walsall