By Tony Leighton
Barnsley manager David Flitcroft is fronting up in the most positive way possible to his relegation-threatened team's tough task in their extremely difficult three-match run-in to the end of a fraught npower Championship season.
The Tykes, second-bottom of the table despite being much-improved since Flitcroft took control at the turn of the year, face promotion chasers Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace before what could be a final day 'them or us' survival showdown with the current third-bottom team, Huddersfield Town.
Asked if his side will avoid the drop, Flitcroft replies with an emphatic "yes", as he looks ahead first to Saturday's trip to Forest. "I know what we've got and what we're good at," says the former Rochdale and Bury midfielder, "and when we're good at what we're good at then we're a match for anyone in this league."
That may sound like a hollow boast from the manager of a team who are scrapping to save their Championship lives; but in what is his first job in management, Flitcroft has led the Tykes to some highly impressive results.
They have beaten third in the table Watford, fourth-placed Brighton and Hove Albion, Leicester City, in six, and drawn at both leaders Cardiff City and fifth-placed Crystal Palace - all that after being rock-bottom and looking doomed when Flitcroft took over.
So Saturday's visit to Nottingham holds no fears for the young manager as he prepares to go head-to-head with Billy Davies, whose return to the City Ground hot seat has sparked a revival that has led to Forest vying for a Play-Off place.
"Billy Davies has stimulated a team that was under-performing," says 39-year-old Flitcroft. "That's what Billy's about, getting a team to over-achieve.
"But that's what we've had to do here, and Saturday is an incredible chance for us to come out of the bottom three. Forest are at home, they've got to win the game if they want to push for the top six, but they'll have to put in a shift against a Barnsley team that don't know when they're beaten."
A never-say-die attitude Barnsley may have, but they were in fact well beaten two games ago in a 6-0 pounding at Oakwell by Charlton Athletic.
And though they bounced back well against Derby County on Tuesday, also at home, a last-minute Rams equaliser robbed the Tykes of two precious points.
"A goal like that can go one of two ways," says Flitcroft. "It can wreck you, it can break you, but it will galvanise us. I'm working with a group of players who want to stay in this division and I don't waste time on negative emotions.
"To get out of the bottom three and stay out it's going to take what we've already built - we've built off a foundation of honesty, sincerity, hard work and resolve.
"Those are the qualities that we're going to need and that will definitely have to come into play if we're going to get out and stay up - and I've seen enough in that dressing room to be positive that we've got enough."
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