Analysis of Barnsley's play-off defeat to Swansea City. The Reds drew 1-1 in Wales and lost 2-1 on aggregate
REDS SHOULD BE PROUD OF SEASON DESPITE DEFEAT
When the final whistle pierced the chilly Welsh air and shattered Barnsley's hopes of a miraculous promotion to the Premier League, Valerien Ismael seemed to accept instantly that the dream was over.
The Frenchman had been very animated on the touchline during the game, touching the ball as many times as some of his players as he regularly threw it back onto the pitch, and reacting angrily to refereeing decisions or mistakes by his team.
But, when a sensational campaign was brought to an end with this play-off semi-final defeat and his players collapsed to the floor and in many cases shed tears, he turned briskly to his right to shake hands with and embrace Swansea manager Steve Cooper whose side Ismael said deserved to win.
Ismael was clearly bubbling inside with a cocktail of emotions including pride in his players for punching well above their weight and huge frustration that they lost a very even tie and missed out on the Wembley final.
Before speculation over whether the Reds can keep Ismael and his star players begins, there should be appreciation of a tremendous campaign.
Six months ago promotion to the Premier League would have seemed like a distant dream to Barnsley fans, something that only richer clubs can compete for. Ismael and his players deserve credit for making the supporters and club believe again that it is not impossible.
To go from staying up in the final seconds of last season then not winning any of the first games to this, to within two games of the top flight is sensational progress.
SWANSEA WIN TIE OF FINE MARGINS
Ismael congratulated Swansea in a gracious post-match interview, admitting they deserved the place in the final for scoring two fine goals to cap a disciplined performance over two legs whereas his side were just on the wrong side of very fine margins.
There had been a 17-point gap between these two sides with three months left in the league season but that was whittled down to two by the final league table while they battled through a 180-minute contest which could have gone either way.
Ultimately the pragmatic, physical approach of Swansea may well have made them the toughest of the three possible play-off opponents for the Reds who seemed unsure whether to fully press them or not.
Barnsley made the longest possible journey in the Championship to a side they had lost to three times this season without scoring and a club they had not won at in 12 attempts since 1974.
The Swans have a far larger budget, exemplified by the £80,000 per week they pay to £20million striker Andre Ayew which is thought to be more than Barnsley's starting 11 are paid and about 50 times as much as some Reds starters are on.
Whereas Barnsley's oldest starter was 26 – unheard-of in a game of this magnitude – Swansea's side was packed with experienced players, other than the two 20-year-old centre-backs and loanee goalkeeper who all performed well in both legs. Cooper has used his contacts as a former England youth coach to loan in stellar talents such as Freddie Woodman and Marc Guehi.
On Saturday, Barnsley had more possession, chances and spells of pressure than their hosts while they netted against them after 340 minutes of trying this season, briefly silencing a raucous home crowd of around 3,000 who provided very good support for their team.
In their four meetings this season, Barnsley have scored once from 12 shots on target and Swansea have scored six from nine.
They needed more moments of magic from key players such as quiet pair Alex Mowatt and Daryl Dike, but after a season full of them, they finally ran out.
ANOTHER FINE STRIKE AFTER DISPUTED REFEREEING DECISION
The first half was almost identical to Monday's first leg as Swansea scored a fine goal, with their only real attack, in the 39th minute after a disputed refereeing decision then the Reds were much better after the break but missed chances.
After Andre Ayew was fractionally offside for his Monday winner, this time Matt Grimes’ superb goal came from a free-kick awarded against Michal Helik who appeared to be fouled by Wayne Routledge, not the other way round.
Barnsley could still have dealt better with it, Brad Collins might have caught it or got more distance on the punch then Grimes easily beat Callum Brittain on the edge of the box.
Two questionable refereeing decisions aided and abetted the Swans’ excellent goals over the tie.
FRONT THREE SELECTIONS DIDN’T WORK
It feels harsh to criticise Ismael after an incredible season but his decision to start Dominik Frieser on Monday and Victor Adeboyejo on Saturday did not pay off, with neither making an impact and both coming off at half-time.
Daryl Dike, Carlton Morris and Cauley Woodrow are the three top-scoring strikers but they did not play together until the second half in both games, when Barnsley looked far stronger.
As for Conor Chaplin, he did not play a minute in either play-off game after scoring in the final league match. That is probably because Ismael tends to leave him out against more physical sides but he could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved, especially when seeing centre-back Liam Kitching come on in the final minutes on Saturday.
Adeboyejo - who replaced Dominik Frieser who missed out on his 50th appearances – has not scored in 26 games, a run which began at Swansea in December when he scored an own goal. He was arguably the most lively of the isolated front three in the first half but, for all his willing running, did not threaten the home defence. His replacement Dike struggled to make an impact as his brilliant loan spell ended with a string of less impressive performances. When the Reds go long to him regularly, he is often penalised harshly by referees which seems to impact his confidence.
Dike had been dropped to the bench for Morris who struggled to replicate his excellent first leg performance off the bench in the first half of the second leg. But he won ten headers and had three good headed chances in the second half, all six yards out from corners from Callum Styles then Alex Mowatt then Woodrow.
Woodrow had a poor first half in the central position he usually looks better in, but scored a fine goal and could have easily have had an assist late on.
Woodrow's goal was set up by Jordan Williams who delivered probably his best performance of the season, certainly since being moved out of the back three and into the wing-back role by Ismael. In both legs, Barnsley's best attacking player – Morris then Williams – came on at half-time.