An in-depth preview of tonight's play-off second leg with a look at some key issues.
More of same but more clinical
IF THE first leg at Bolton on Saturday felt like a 50/50 contest beforehand, a few percentage points have surely shifted in Barnsley’s favour for tonight’s second leg following the 1-1 draw.
It is still on a knife’s edge, with the first goal likely crucial as always with Michael Duff’s side this season, but the Reds are slight favourites. They were the better side in the close first leg, will now play in front of a large home crowd and, after all, they did finish ahead of the Trotters in the League One table.
Barnsley equalled their club record for 31 wins in all competitions in a season when they beat Oxford United 2-0 on April 22.
Since then they lost at home to Ipswich and Peterborough, drew 4-4 in a bonkers game at MK Dons then produced their best performance for several weeks at Bolton.
A record-breaking 32nd win of the campaign is now what is required to send the Reds to Wembley.
A similar performance to the first leg will give them a fine chance of doing so but they will need to be slightly more clinical.
Bruce Dyer and Sam Winnall are the only Barnsley players to have scored at Oakwell in a play-off game.
Someone else will need to step up and write their name into Reds folklore.
It is a likely to be a tight match against a good defensive side, so they may need to find some individual magic or be very clinical – or hold their nerve for a penalty shoot-out having missed three of four spot-kicks this season.
Bolton’s impressive goalkeeper James Trafford saved two one-on-ones on Saturday, and there were several other efforts on goal or moments when the Reds got a key pass or touch slightly wrong in the Bolton box.
The Trotters seemed content to let the Reds have a series of long-range shots, one of which found the back of the net, while it is dangerous to give the likes of Adam Phillips so much space from 20 or 25 yards.
Up front seems the most realistic area where the Reds could change their line-up, with Michael Duff tinkering with his front two regularly in recent weeks. Slobodan Tedic impressed in the first leg but James Norwood has usually been the partner for Devante Cole.
The bench is likely to be used more than on Saturday, when the only two Barnsley changes occurred in the 82nd minute.
Large crowd could be crucial
The Reds decided to cap the away capacity for both legs at slightly more than 2,000.
Bolton brought more than double that in January and the away end felt like a major factor as the visitors made a very good start against hosts who seemed to freeze, leading to an early penalty and controversial red card.
This time there will be about 4,000 extra Barnsley supporters in the ground.
There would have been even more had part of the Barry Murphy Stand been used for Reds supporters after the other three sold out.
The home crowd is sure to be an advantage as the tie enters the decisive stage.
The relationship with the fans, atmosphere in the stands and numbers coming through the turnstiles have all improved substantially through this superb season.
It could all culminate in another spine-tingling night at Oakwell – the last there this season but hopefully not the last of the Reds’ campaign.
How much better will Bolton be?
Bolton manager Ian Evatt said after the first leg that his side had ‘60 or 70 per cent more to give.’
Despite a decent start, the Trotters were not at their best and were fortunate to come away with a draw in front of their noisy home fans.
That was largely down to an excellent Barnsley gameplan devised by Duff and his coaches then executed impressively by his disciplined and well-drilled players.
Bolton could not play their usual expansive football, or press their opponents into mistakes – instead it was the Reds who put some good moves together and seemed to rattle their hosts on the ball.
It is now up to Bolton to find a way to combat that in the return fixture.
Last time they came to Oakwell, and won 3-0, they found plenty of space behind the Reds’ high line, but they must not be given the time on the ball to play those passes.
Forced to go wide by Barnsley’s compact shape on Saturday, Bolton did have some success on the wings, especially early on and for the equaliser, so the Reds need to tighten up in those areas.
There were no yellow cards in the first leg – as Duff praised the referee – and there were no signs of the feud between the two managers from earlier in the season.
But the pressure of competing for Wembley could potentially turn the match into a more tempestuous affair.
Trotters at happy hunting ground
Bolton used to have a poor record against the Reds, with just two wins from 21 meetings between 1934 and 2000.
But the last time they beat the Trotters was in 1998 in the FA Cup thanks to a Darren Barnard free-kick. The only victory in 17 meetings since was earlier this season when they won 2-1 in the FA Cup in November. Bolton – who did not win in 13 games at Oakwell from 1908 to 2001 – are unbeaten in seven trips there, winning four and drawing three. Barnsley’s 3-0 loss to Bolton in January was the only defeat in a run of 14 wins from 15 home games, which has been followed by the recent losses to Ipswich and Peterborough. It is no real guide for this match as it was almost five months ago and ruined as a contest by the wrongly-awarded red card for Mads Andersen in the tenth minute.