Don’t let day at Wembley pass you by, says Barnsley boss Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom and Conor Hourihane
Paul Heckingbottom and Conor Hourihane

Caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom has urged his Barnsley side to seize the day as they prepare for today’s cup clash at Wembley.

The lifelong Reds fan will lead out his home-town club under the iconic arch to take on League Two high-fliers Oxford United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.

Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom

It will be an unfamiliar experience for many of Heckingbottom’s charges, but he has stressed the importance of grasping the opportunity and enjoying the occasion in front of nearly 60,000 fans.

“It is a big game and big moment,” said the 38-year-old. “They shouldn’t take it for granted, they have to seize that opportunity.

“It’s a reward for their hard work and discipline, their willingness to go the extra mile and for battling on through the tough times. But we’ve not won anything yet.

“Our mind-set is just for the win. We’ll tell our players to go and enjoy it, go and make the most of it and when they walk off to have no regrets.”

Sam Winnall

Sam Winnall

The Reds travelled down to London on Friday and continued their preparations in the capital yesterday, making use of Barnet’s training facilities.

Although there is an entire division separating Barnsley and their opponents, Heckingbottom has played down the favourites tag and warned against complacency.

“Going in as favourites doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “Oxford have been on form all season and they’re a really good side with really good players.

“They’re a League One team in the waiting so we can’t under-estimate them. It’s going to be a tight game but a good game, I’m sure.”

Heckingbottom knows all about winning big games after tasting back-to-back play-off success with Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley in 2005 and 2006 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

And the caretaker chief has been drawing upon his previous experience to prepare the players for the whirlwind of such a big occasion.

“You’re speaking from experience when you’re telling players what it means to win things as a group,” he added.

“Once the final whistle goes, if we’ve got that win, I know how to encourage them to celebrate and do things the right way so they create memories so it’s not just a blur passing them by, because they might not get that chance again.”

Skipper Conor Hourihane has been a leading light for the Reds this season, particularly since taking over the armband from Alfie Mawson.

And the midfield maestro insists he and his team-mates are more than ready to take home the trophy.

“It hasn’t been easy. The road to Wembley has been a long one,” the Irishman reflected.

“We’ll be calm, relaxed, controlled, and we’ll be going in on Sunday all guns blazing and ready to go.”

Strikers Sam Winnall and Marley Watkins face late fitness tests, while Heckingbottom also has the restriction of being able to name a maximum of five loanees in his matchday squad, meaning one will have to miss out.

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