Football: Barnsley need a polished display

John Hendrie believes that, like last year, his team can earn their spurs in the Cup.
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YOU CAN measure how long it is since a club won the FA Cup, not just in years but in micro-millimetres on the old trophy itself. Bright and bold is the engraving for winners in the Eighties and early Nineties but names fade into the silverwork the further you travel.

You can just still make out the word Barnsley, but only just. It is, after all, nearly 90 years since the club beat West Bromwich Albion in the 1912 final and scores of polishers have been slowly wiping away the evidence as time has erased memories.

The Cup was at Oakwell yesterday doing a pre-quarter-final grand tour and cynics would sneer it is the closest that Barnsley will get to the trophy this season given that they meet the resurgent Tottenham tomorrow. Certainly it is the nearest their player-manager, John Hendrie, has ever been.

It is a curiosity that in a career spanning 17 years with Coventry, Bradford, Newcastle, Leeds and Middlesbrough, he had to wait until the age of 34 before he reached the quarter-finals of the Cup. Now, with his appearances limited to virtually none he has got there again.

"Oh last year," he replied without the slightest hesitation when asked what was his most cherished Cup memory. "I had never scored against Manchester United so to get a goal at Old Trafford and then again here in the replay was a big high.

"It was particularly special as I had a lot of family from Scotland. My mum and dad were at the Old Trafford game and they are knocking on a wee bit so that was a big highlight."

Hendrie became manager much to his own surprise last July when he arrived back from holiday and found urgent messages waiting for him from the Barnsley chairman, John Dennis. Danny Wilson had decided to leave the club for Sheffield Wednesday and he was asked to fill the breach.

Some void it was, because Wilson had become more than just a football manager in his four-year spell at Barnsley. He had guided them to their first appearance in the top division in their history and, although they were relegated straight away, his reputation had remained intact. Hendrie's position was akin to being the act that followed Salome's dance.

"You can't live in the shadows of anyone," Hendrie said. "Danny's time here was an era and I was part of that era but you have to do things your own way."

Had players been slow to adapt from his transformation from colleague to boss? "It was no problem for me," he said, "and if anyone thought on those lines they haven't a chance under me. I'm the manager - they have to accept it."

Hendrie's appointment partly helped galvanise season-ticket sales and some 14,000 were purchased. But the campaign has not been a raging success. Neil Redfearn and Ashley Ward have been transferred and Barnsley have been beset with so many injuries that a dozen of his first-team squad have required surgery this season and 18 different striking combinations have been tried.

Dreams of an instant return to the Premiership have receded in a spell in which they have scored in only one of their last eight League games, so the FA Cup, like last season, is a last refuge in the chase for acclaim.

Wednesday's First Division match against Bradford City could have been their season in a microcosm. They lost 1-0, had a goal disallowed - "I've watched it on the video and there's no way it's offside" - and, of course a player was injured, Peter Markstedt.

All of which is hardly the best preparation for meeting Tottenham who have gone from the bumbling giants ripe for the killing they duly received at Oakwell in the fourth round last season to the most successful cup team in England. But managers are paid to be optimistic and Hendrie is.

"I was encouraged by the Bradford game," he said. "I had a right go after Sunday's performance against Crystal Palace [Barnsley lost 1-0] because it wasn't good enough but on Wednesday we gave our all. OK, we didn't have that craft, that finishing quality, but we created some chances which is positive.

"I told the players, `I don't want any heads down in here I want to see you nice, chirpy and positive tomorrow because Saturday's a massive game for you and I want you to enjoy it. There's no pressure on you.'"

As for Spurs, Hendrie concedes the task will be harder tomorrow than it was last time. "They're a smashing team," he said. "George Graham is a fantastic manager who has made them very tough to beat. We have to perform to our maximum ability and hopefully they're a wee bit under on the day because, let's face it, they've got the better players."

One of the home players might be Hendrie himself, albeit as a substitute. "I want to be involved," he said, "and if I was just a player I would be but there's so much to do as manager. I had to miss training this morning, for example, but if it comes down to me and the laundry lady I might get a shout." Providing she is still polishing the Cup, of course.