Analysis of last night's Championship play-off semi-final first leg which saw the return of fans at Oakwell and a 1-0 win for their visitors Swansea City.
FANTASTIC ATMOSPHERE BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER GAME
The roar of sheer excitement when about 4,500 Barnsley fans saw one of their great modern teams for the first time was replaced two hours later by a slightly quieter but no less spine-tingling standing ovation despite a 1-0 defeat.
That reflected not only that the Reds had been unlucky and deserved at least a draw, but that Monday evening was about more than a play-off first leg.
It was the twin celebration of a sensational fifth-placed finish and the return of supporters after 15 months away.
The atmosphere before kick-off was electric, with supporters exploding into cheers first when the goalkeepers came out to warm up then going up further notches after the emergence of the full team then boss Valerien Ismael who they saw for the first time.
Ismael said it felt like there were 30,000 people in Oakwell and praised the crowd who, despite being nervous throughout one of the biggest games in their lifetimes, provided excellent backing before, during and after the match.
The crowd occasionally turned their anger on referee Geoff Eltringham and their former hero captain Conor Hourihane who – although he had a very quiet game – showed the ‘gamesmanship’ side of personality the Reds fans used to love by time wasting late on.
Ismael admitted his side struggled to cope with the emotion of the night in the first half while Callum Brittain admitted it was 'weird' playing in front of fans again - although both praised the supporters fully.
FINE MARGINS COST REDS AT BOTH ENDS OF PITCH
Swansea defended well, with their two 20-year-old centre-backs impressing, and took their only real chance in style – which are the ingredients of a classic away performance.
A lot of talk in the build-up was about Barnsley being a different team to the one Swansea did the double over in the league season. And in many ways they were with January signings Daryl Dike, and particularly Morris, causing plenty of problems while the Reds defended set pieces well having conceded three times from them in the league meetings.
The Swans were probably their least effective in any of the three meetings this season, with Jamal Lowe and Ayew no longer the pacy front two but operating in wide areas as Steve Cooper has changed from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3.
The Reds generally pressed Swansea well, giving them very little time and space to play the long balls behind the high home defensive line that was their tactic as it was in the two league games. Goalkeeper Brad Collins made the most clearances of any Barnsley player as he often came out of his area to gather.
Collins could do little about the goal and only faced one other shot, an 85th-minute swerving effort by Matt Grimes which he beat away.
In the end it was a classic case of ‘fine margins’ at both end of the pitch, with refereeing decisions, very slightly slack defending and a lack of clinical finishing costing Barnsley on a night that will still be remembered fondly by all who were lucky enough to attend.
AYEW JUST OFFSIDE FOR GOAL AND REDS DENIED PENALTY
Swansea benefitted from some marginal refereeing decisions with Andre Ayew fractionally offside for the goal while Barnsley could have had a 93rd-minute penalty.
The one time the hosts seemed to switch off slightly was for the goal, with their visitors able to pass the ball from left to right without being frantically pressed, before an impressive pass by Kyle Naughton found Ayew on the right of the area.
The Ghana international was behind the Barnsley defence when the ball was played but that does not excuse Michal Helik allowing him too much space to cut onto his favoured left foot on the right of the box and curl a shot worthy of his £20million price tag into the bottom left corner.
In the 93rd minute, the ball hit Lowe’s hand in the box which Ismael said should have been given as a penalty. The forward certainly controlled the ball with his hand and, although accidental, could easily have resulted in a spot-kick on another day.
MORRIS SUPERB AFTER BREAK AS REDS MISS BIG CHANCES
Carlton Morris was desperately unlucky not to score or create the equaliser as he produced a man of the match performance despite sitting on the bench for the first half. Ismael must have been tempted to play him from the start, along with the other two top-scoring strikers Dike and Woodrow, but chose his trusted lieutenant Dominik Frieser to add a different pressing dimension.
Frieser worked hard but made little real impact and Barnsley’s attack was transformed with Morris came on.
The striker showed tremendous skill to twist run and sprint his way past defenders several times early in the second half, and must surely start in Wales.
The Reds had a string of chances after the break.
The big one came three minutes into the second half when Callum Brittain should have netted his first Barnsley goal early after Woodman spilled Morris’ shot but the wing-back shot too close to him seven yards out and was denied by a fine stop. Brittain admitted later he was ‘devastated’ and that he should have smashed the shot with full power instead of trying to place what turned out to be a weak effort.
That was the start of a Barnsley onslaught as Cauley Woodrow saw a low free-kick saved by Woodman then Morris sliced a difficult 15-yard volley over the bar. The Reds then had several men over on the counter-attack after a corner, but Dike’s pass was just in front of Morris who would have been clean through on goal. Dike’s clever pass nearly put Morris clean through but Woodman rushed out to just beat him to the ball. The match calmed down after the hour-mark but the Reds almost levelled in the 93rd minute when Woodrow’s low left-wing corner was cleverly flicked by Morris and it looped onto the crossbar.
TIE NOT OVER AND BARNSLEY CAN STILL REACH WEMBLEY
Barnsley are far from being out of this play-off semi-final.
If the Reds can repeat their second half display over 90 minutes and more in Wales on Saturday from 6.30pm, with better finishing and a bit of luck, they are more than capable of reaching the Wembley final.
They will hope to replicate the 2006 side who lost 1-0 at home to Huddersfield Town in League One semi-final before winning 3-1 away.
Swansea will be under pressure to perform in front of their 3,000 returning fans and his Barnsley side has thrived in such situations before.
After everything we have watched them achieve over the last 18 months, it would be foolish to rule out another Barnsley success.