VALERIEN Ismael insists Barnsley’s promotion dream is very much alive as they head to Swansea City tomorrow for what he admits is his biggest game as a manager.
The Reds travel to Wales for a 6.30pm kick-off, having lost 1-0 in the Championship play-off semi-final first leg at Oakwell on Monday evening.
They must win by one goal to force extra-time, or two to win on aggregate.
The winner will play at Wembley in the final on May 29 against the winner of the other semi-final in which Bournemouth lead 1-0 ahead of their trip to Brentford tomorrow.
Ismael said: “The message straight after the game was: ‘everything is possible.’ I am proud of the guys that they kept our dream alive.
“It is the most important game for me, for sure, as a manager and the most important for the players.
“We are looking forward to it.
“We want to have no regrets after the final whistle in Swansea.”
Ismael believes the Reds might thrive on starting from behind and being underdogs, against a team that has beaten them three times this season.
“To be 1-0 down maybe suits our way to play and our mentality.
“Last year, Barnsley needed to win in Brentford to stay up and they did it. There are many examples of teams losing the first leg but coming back to win.
“Last year Swansea won 1-0 against Brentford then lost in the second leg. That is just an example of the play-offs. We lost three times against them but the most important game is on Saturday.
“I have a good feeling.
“We are much nearer to a win against them. We are looking forward to a great game. The two teams deserved to be there, they will fight and they want the ticket to Wembley.
“I am so proud of the guys for a great season but we are not finished.
“We can now discover more greatness.”
The Reds created several chances in the second half on Monday and their head coach knows they need to be more ruthless tomorrow.
He said: “I am confident we can take our chances. We have to create the chances to score and be more more clinical this time.”
Ismael says VAR should have been introduced for the play-offs, which may have disallowed Swansea’s goal on Monday for offside.
He also said his team has not practised penalties as a group in training – although individual players have taken extra spot-kicks as preparation for a shoot-out tomorrow evening.
Barnsley will play in front of 3,000 Swansea fans, and Ismael wants to put pressure on the hosts.
“The only way to have the advantage and put pressure on them is to score.
“We need to score and get back in the game.
“The performance in the second half on Monday has to be there from the first minute.
“We have learned from the emotion of the first leg and we can control it now. We are looking forward to the game with fans. It is good generally that fans are back in stadiums. You can see with the results this week, it is not always an advantage.
“Swansea played not the best game but they were really disciplined, very focused and concentrated. This is what you need in the play-offs and that is what we have to match on Saturday. The guys gave me a good feeling in training but the reality will be on Saturday at the first whistle. We will have massive focus on Saturday.”
Around 4,500 supporters attended the first leg after Covid-19 restrictions were loosened and the Reds could play in front of fans for the first time since March last year.
Ismael said: “It was an incredible feeling – when you are without fans for one year, you never meet them, you play in an empty stadium then they react like that. I was in my office before the game and I could hear the atmosphere was special. Then when I came out it was incredible. It was why I wanted to come here.
“I thought and dreamed about it, but the emotional connection and the passion was even more than I expected.
“The only disappointment was that we didn’t score for our fans and set more energy free. I can’t blame the guys because the goal was offside and we put our heart on the pitch.”
Ismael admitted his players struggled with the emotions of playing in front of fans in the first half, in which the visitors took the lead.
He said: “There was a lot of emotion in the game because it was an outstanding atmosphere at Oakwell and the players were a bit inhibited early on and didn’t play freely. I can understand that because they are human beings.
“We spoke about it at half-time and controlled the emotion in the second half.”
Midfielder Herbie Kane has been in training following a knee injury.
Ismael said: “He has trained very well but he missed seven weeks and trained two times with the squad.
“It is difficult to take another one from outside when all the players are available. It is possible that he could come back into the squad.”