Barnsley: Andy Gray interview

Striker Andy Gray can sum up the state of play in the Championship in one word: "crazy".

The division is ultra-competitive, with every team capable of beating each other on their day – and that means Gray and his Barnsley team-mates have it all to play for, despite entering 2011 in mid-table.

A mixed bag of Christmas and New Year results left the Oakwell outfit in 16th spot, six points outside the play-offs and eight clear of the relegation zone.

Santa failed to deliver as Barnsley were beaten 2-1 by Burnley on Boxing Day and 1-0 against Swansea two days later, but they are unbeaten in the new decade following a 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest last Saturday and a 2-1 home win over Coventry on January 3.

Those up and down results are a reflection of Barnsley's inconsistency so far this term – and of how unpredictable the Championship has become.

Much-travelled striker Andy Gray believes it is all setting up nicely for a tense final half of the campaign.

He told Yorkshire Sport: "We are in a pack of a lot of clubs a little distance from the play-offs, but on the negative side not that far away from teams at the bottom.

"It is so tight, if you can put a run of games together you are right up in the mix. It is a really competitive division – it is crazy."

Recent results elsewhere have illustrated that, according to Gray. He added: "Look at Scunthorpe.

"They are down there, but last week they went to Burnley and won 2-0. Burnley's squad and budget's probably one of the biggest in the league and Scunthorpe's probably among the lowest.

"But they showed what can happen. Anyone on their day can beat anyone else.

"It makes it exciting, every game."

Overall, Gray feels the Tykes have to be disappointed with their

festive period results, despite being in with a shout in each game.

"Against Burnley we were 1-0 up at half-time and it was reasonably level, but they got two quick goals and we lost," he recalled.

"Swansea have one of the best home records in the league, but it was 1-0 and we didn't disgrace ourselves, though we could have got something from the game.

"Against Forest, to be 2-0 up with 20 minutes to go against a team with a record like they've got, it was disappointing to have to settle for a point – though people probably would have taken that before the game.

"Then we played Coventry and we managed to get the three points. That shows how competitive it is.

"Every game we play we want to win, but all teams are capable of winning every game and it's just on the day – you never know what's going to happen."

Like most teams in the league, Barnsley have entered 2011 with sights set firmly on the play-offs.

"We are definitely capable," Gray stated. "We are mid-table now and there's no reason why we can't get up there.

"It's the same for every team, it is so tight. I think what Blackpool did last year gave everybody a bit of hope. If you win half a dozen games, it puts you right up there.

"Leeds put a decent run together and they got up to the top-two and that shows how open it is."

The Oakwell outfit are facing a key month, with games against Hull, who are 15th, third-placed Swansea and Doncaster Rovers, in 14th.

The period immediately after the holiday season is when the shake-up really begins and Gray said: "If we can put ourselves in a good position over the next half a dozen games, we are going to be in the mix.

"We will really have a good chance. We want to put ourselves in a position to force our way into the play-offs over the next half a dozen games, but every game is hard and it's impossible to predict what is going to happen."

Barnsley won't be many pundits' tip for a promotion push, but Gray is quite happy to see them flying under the radar this year. "We've got a strong squad and a really good team spirit," he pointed out. "Everyone's pulling in the right direction.

"People sometimes overlook Barnsley, because it's not the biggest town. Sometimes the press and people don't mention us as much as other clubs. We went to Forest and nearly won there and we didn't get a mention, but it doesn't bother us. Last year nobody was talking about Blackpool, until they went up.

"There's no pressure on us, other than the pressure we put on ourselves. Other clubs have also got that to contend with."

Harrogate-born Gray, 31, has been around the game, playing for 10 clubs including Leeds United, Sheffield United and Bradford City. He believes the South Yorkshire outfit do have the potential to be a top-flight club again.

"The club has played a lot of games in the Championship and the next step is to get back into the Premier League," he said.

"I don't think there's a lot of difference between the top teams in our league and teams at the bottom end of the Premiership.

"Blackpool have given clubs like Barnsley something to aim for, and clubs who've gone up in the last few years – Hull, Blackpool and Burnley – are not any bigger than us.

"Blackpool have a great chance of staying up and Hull were there for a couple of years. That gives teams in the Championship a bit of encouragement."

Personally, Gray has his own goals to achieve in 2011.

"I'm enjoying it here, but I'm in and out of the team and obviously I'd like to be playing every week.

"It is a good bunch of lads, good staff and a good manager and it's an enjoyable place to be. It's frustrating not playing every week, but we're only playing one striker, so someone is going to be disappointed.

"I played against Burnley and I hadn't played for six weeks, so it takes a bit of time to get your form back.

"I played at Forest and I thought I played quite well, I got some of my match sharpness back.

"I have got to try and take my chance when I get it. My aim's to start more games, play a bit more and score a few goals and, from a team point of view, hopefully push on towards the play-offs."

Meanwhile, Barnsley manager Mark Robins expects to lose winger Adam Hammill this month.

The former Liverpool trainee has a 500,000 buy-out clause in his contract and is wanted by top-flight clubs Everton, Wolves and yesterday's FA Cup opponents West Ham.

Wolves boss Mick McCarthy was at Oakwell last Monday to watch the 2-1 win over Coventry and Robins is resigned to seeing one of his star men move on.

He said: "I don't think there's any chance of keeping Adam.

"It is out of my hands. If he does move, then so be it and we'll look to do something different.

"However, we'll hope that he sees sense and he stays with us."

Robins confirmed: "There has been interest from one or two clubs, but that's out of my control now.

"If he decides to leave and a club come up with the right money, I guess he will go and speak to them."

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