Barnsley return from the international break with a hugely important match in their Championship play-off push, as top-six rivals Reading come to Oakwell on Good Friday.
The sides currently sit in fifth and sixth place in the table, knowing victory for either will be a significant step towards securing their spot in the end-of-season lottery.
Barnsley saw a 12-match unbeaten run come to an end at the hands of local rivals Sheffield Wednesday last time out, but head coach Valerien Ismael is confident they are in top shape ahead of the run-in.
On injury news
Herbie Kane missed that match against Sheffield Wednesday through injury, and Ismael said that the midfielder was set to be out for another fortnight.
“We have only one issue with Herbie Kane who will miss out the game tomorrow,” said the Frenchman. “He has a knee injury and I think he needs two weeks more to come back.”
The only longer-term absentees are defenders Liam Kitching and Ben Williams. Kitching is yet to play for Barnsley since signing from Forest Green Rovers in January because of a troublesome groin, while Williams has been recovering from an ACL injury suffered in pre-season.
Providing the latest update on the pair, Ismael did not rule out either featuring before the end of the campaign, but said the first priority was on making sure they would be ready for next season.
“I think he struggles less now,” he said of Kitching. “I saw him yesterday in training and he looks really good. This month could be possible that Liam Kitching comes back with the team.”
On Williams, Ismael added: “We will see. We don’t want to put the pressure on Ben Williams or Liam Kitching. Both players are really motivated to come back and maybe try this season to play but for sure we want both players for next season from day one.”
On international players
Barnsley had two players on senior international duty during the break, with in-form forward Daryl Dike featuring for the United States and defender Michal Helik making his first appearances for Poland, including starting at Wembley against England.
Ismael confirmed the availability of the Orlando City loanee, saying: “Dike (has been) here since Monday. The last two days for him were only recovery, today will be the last training before the game. Michal comes back today without issues.”
Despite Helik playing on Wednesday night, the Barnsley boss did not rule out the centre-back playing some part against Reading less than 48 hours later.
“I think that Michal is ready,” he said. “I felt in the text (he sent) yesterday evening he was really motivated, delighted to come back and join the team. Maybe next week we can give him the possibilities for more days recovery.”
On the play-off push
The visit of Reading begins the final eight-match stretch of the season, with Barnsley currently holding a five-point advantage over seventh-placed Bournemouth having played an extra fixture.
It looks set to be a tight finale in the battle for the play-offs, and Ismael is happy that his squad have been able to rest and refresh over the past fortnight and are ready for the challenge ahead.
“Our focus is to give everything from the first minute, 100 per cent,” he said. “I think it was our way so far and it will be the same tomorrow. We are fresh, we are motivated to start the game tomorrow and put lots of intensity in the game.
“We do not want to regret anything and we want to push for more, to continue up the table. The players are really motivated. The training sessions on Monday and Tuesday were incredible. I hope the boys can put the same effort and intensity into tomorrow.”
Upcoming opponents Reading are just two points behind in the table, having been another of the season’s surprise packages following a spectacular start.
Although their form dropped off before the international break, Ismael was highly complementary of Veljko Paunovic’s side and expects an exciting clash between two teams with distinct philosophies.
“I think Reading are one of the top teams in the league,” he said. “Since the first day they are in the top six. They were top of the table, (they have) a lot of quality in the team, young players but lots of quality.
“Tomorrow will be a big game for us but we’re looking forward to the game, we want to play against the better teams and better players, and it’s another chance for us to enforce our way to play football.
“They have a clear philosophy, way to play football, they try to stay true to themselves, and it’s the same for us. It’ll be two clear different ways to play football.”