John Hendrie backing play-off ‘outsiders’ Barnsley to match ‘Class of 97’

Mark Walker, PA
·3-min read

Former Barnsley winger John Hendrie is backing the club to match their ‘Class of 97’ by pulling off another unlikely promotion to the Premier League.

Hendrie, 57, played a key role when Barnsley upset the odds to reach the top flight under manager Danny Wilson for the first time in their history 24 years ago.

The Reds, now with Valerien Ismael in charge, secured an unlikely Sky Bet Championship play-off place last weekend and Hendrie will not be betting against them going all the way.

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“They’re big outsiders,” Hendrie told the PA news agency. “But they’ve nothing to lose here and you’d certainly have a couple of quid on them.

“I feel that’s the same mentality as their current players and coaches. They’re getting a free hit at it because there’s no expectation.”

Barnsley survived relegation on the final day last season by winning at promotion-chasing Brentford and were among the favourites for the drop this time round.

Odds of 500-1 were available in September for Barnsley to finish in the top six.

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“It would be massive,” Hendrie said. “They’d probably give Ismael manager of the year for it. Promotion would be remarkable. Even just getting to the play-offs is a fantastic achievement.

“The odds are stacked against them, but it’s cup football and anything can happen.”

Barnsley had registered just four points from their first seven league games when former Crystal Palace defender Ismael replaced Gerhard Struber in October.

But former LASK boss Ismael, 45, steered them to 10 wins in their next 15 league matches.

Barnsley gave Chelsea a scare in their fifth-round FA Cup tie at Oakwell in February
Barnsley gave Chelsea a scare in their fifth-round FA Cup tie at Oakwell in February (Martin Rickett/PA)

“I’ve been as surprised as everyone else, I mean they were tipped for relegation and it’s just been the snowball effect,” Hendrie said.

“Once they got some decent results, everything seemed to snowball. There are several factors obviously, Alex Mowatt has been inspirational, the new manager has done fabulously well and (Daryl) Dike has also been a big help.”

Dike has scored nine goals in 17 league appearances since arriving on loan from Orlando City, while another transfer-window signing, Carlton Morris, has chipped in with seven.

Hendrie feels Barnsley’s narrow FA Cup defeat to Chelsea in February was the springboard for a concerted play-off push.

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“They probably gave Chelsea more problems than a lot of Premier League teams this season,” Hendrie said.

“I know Chelsea won 1-0, but Barnsley were excellent that day and on the back of that they kicked on, I think they won their next seven and went 10 league games unbeaten.”

When asked if promotion would top the class of 97’s achievement, Hendrie added: “I think it would be on a par.

“We went up automatically, but it’s probably harder to go up now. What we both had in common was that we both went under the radar.”