Daniel Stendel’s Reds had gone on a 20-match unbeaten run after a December loss to Wycombe Wanderers which knocked them out of the top six. They won 12 and drew eight during a four-month period which saw stunning team goals in home victories over Charlton Athletic and Bradford City, 4-1 away thrashings of both Wimbledon and Gillingham, a 3-0 success at Southend United with ten men and an injury-time winner at Walsall.
They travelled to Burton Albion on April 6 hoping to equal the club record for an unbeaten run set in 1934, but a disappointing performance saw them lose 3-1 and allowed Sunderland to draw level on points with two games in hand. Jacob Brown told the Chronicle: “I remember after Burton, everyone was thinking ‘blooming heck, it’s probably going to be play-offs now.’ The chances of automatic didn’t seem good.”
Cauley Woodrow, who scored at the Pirelli Stadium, added: “We had gone on that massive run then we were terrible against Burton. It was a bad moment in our season but after that we managed to push on.”
The next game is better known for the post-match incident which saw Fleetwood Town manager Joey Barton allegedly assault Stendel – for which he is due to stand trial. But, on the pitch, it was a vital win for the Reds who played some of their best football for weeks after possibly being freed of the pressure of maintaining the unbeaten run, with the last eight games of that sequence including five draws. Mike Bahre – with his first goal in the English leagues – and Woodrow put the hosts 2-0 up at half-time then Fleetwood replied but had Harry Souttar sent off for elbowing Cameron McGeehan who wrapped up the 4-2 victory along with Brown.
Stendel had made some changes to the side with Dimitri Cavare, the regular right-back, dropped after a poor match at Burton. He was replaced by teenager Jordan Williams who said: “For me to come in at that point, after the Burton game, was great.”
Brown said: “The best way to bounce back is to win and to score a lot of goals. The Fleetwood game gave us and the fans a massive boost. I scored and got an assist in that game so it gave me a lot of confidence.”
Barnsley then took six points from a vital Easter weekend which put them back in control of second place. Their Good Friday game was at home to a very physical Shrewsbury Town side who had convincingly beaten them in October. The Reds won 2-1 as Alex Mowatt and Brown scored, but the man of the match was goalkeeper and captain Adam Davies who produced a series of sensational saves including three in one-on-one situations. That victory meant the Reds set a new club record for points in a season – they would eventually surpass the previous record of 82 in 1999/2000 by nine points.
The Shrewsbury game also saw the return, from the bench, of Barnsley’s star striker Kieffer Moore whose season was initially thought to have been ended by a head injury at Gillingham in February. He and his team-mates made the longest trip of the season to Plymouth Argyle on Easter Monday. The 950 away fans witnessed one of the best displays of the season as Woodrow, Brown and Mowatt – with a fantastic free-kick – all netted between 15 and 28 minutes.
Woodrow said: “Plymouth away was probably a stand-out performance for us in that season. “We were brilliant that day. The sun was shining, the pitch was lovely and loads of Barnsley fans travelled.”
Brown, who had now scored three in three, added: “We were all a bit shocked at how far ahead we were after half an hour but it showed us how well we were doing at that point.” Williams added: “I got my first assist that day and it was just a really good experience.”
The joy in the away end at the 3-0 win was only increased when news came through that Peterborough’s Matt Godden had levelled in injury-time against Sunderland who were now four points behind with a game in hand. Portsmouth were two behind the Reds, having played a game fewer, but could only draw at Sunderland in the penultimate game of the season while Barnsley were coming from behind to win 2-1 at home to Blackpool. Woodrow equalised before half-time then Liam Lindsay netted his only League One goal.
Williams said: “The Blackpool game was really hard but we showed how good we were as a team. We went behind but showed a lot of character and scored the winner from a corner.”
Brown, who limped off injured, said: “When I came off, we were drawing. I wasn’t upset about the actual injury, it was more the fact that I couldn’t help the team. “I got showered and changed then came out and Linds had scored so I was really happy.”
Barnsley looked set for a tense final day trip to Bristol Rovers, unless Portsmouth lost at home to Peterborough and Sunderland failed to win at Fleetwood in their games in hand on a Tuesday evening. Remarkably, that is exactly what happened as Posh – inspired by two goals from former Barnsley loanee Ivan Toney – went 2-0 up at Fratton Park then, after being brought back to 2-2, got a late winner. Sunderland were leading but conceded an equaliser in the 73rd minute then, needing to score to have chance of the top two, let in another in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
The injured Brown said: “I was really glad that the promotion was finished off on the Tuesday because it would have been horrible to watch from the sidelines at Bristol if promotion had been on the line. A few of us had met up to watch results come in but it was more in hope than anything because we didn’t think both teams would drop points. But then, when it came to the last few minutes, we were thinking ‘it’s actually going to happen here’ and we were running around the house.”
Woodrow said: “I was at home with Cam McGeehan and we paid for both the games on iFollow. They both hadn’t lost on the same night all season so for that to happen and us to go up was amazing and we went out in Sheffield. They are fantastic memories that I will have forever.”
Williams added: “We all went out and met up. It was an enjoyable time and something I hope to experience again in the future. To come into a team and go up straight away was like a dream.”
Between the loss at Burton and the moment they were promoted, the Reds claimed all 12 points available to them while Portsmouth took ten from five games and Sunderland six from six with just one win in that period. Barnsley lost 2-1 in their final game in Bristol, so missed out on the league title to Luton Town, but celebrated on the Memorial Ground pitch after one of the club’s greatest ever seasons.