An in-depth look at Barnsley's League play-off semi-final games with Bolton Wanderers. They meet tonight at Oakwell then on Tuesday in Bolton.


Barnsley: Out: Matty Wolfe (knee), Donovan Pines (thigh). Doubts: Jon Russell, Robbie Cundy, Josh Benson.

Bolton: Out: Carlos Mendez Gomes (Achilles), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (calf), George Johnston. Doubts: Victor Adeboyejo.


Barnsley (3-5-2): Roberts: Williams, de Gevigney, Earl; O'Keeffe, Phillips, Connell, Kane, Connell; McAtee, Cole.

Bolton (3-5-2): Baxter; Jones, Santos, Toal; Dacres-Cogley, Thomason, Sheehan, Maghoma, Williams; Charles, Collins



The first leg is highly likely to be Reds captain Williams’ 200th game for the club. The last players to reach that milestone were Williams’ former captain Adam Davies and his predecessor in goal Luke Steele. Jordan is set to be the only outfield player to reach 200 Reds appearances in more than a decade, with the most recent five being Stephen Foster, Bobby Hassell, Bruce Dyer, Chris Morgan and Darren Barnard. It is a very rare feat in the modern era of constant transfers and Williams has experienced the full gamut of football outcomes since joining as a teenager in 2018 – automatic promotion, relegation, then defeats in a play-off semi-final and final. He assisted Cauley Woodrow’s goal at Swansea in the Championship semi-final loss in 2021 then played every minute in the win over Bolton last season.

The 24-year-old has had a tough season, struggling out of position in the back three for most of it with some key errors.

But he has been a lot better there in recent weeks and was the Reds’ star man on Saturday against Northampton.

His pace may be crucial against Charles, who ended an ten-game wait for a goal with a penalty at Peterborough on Saturday.

The Northern Ireland international did not score in the league in open play in 2024, having missed two months with injury, but netted twice against the Reds last season.

Charles is likely to form a mobile front two with Aaron Collins, a big-money January signing from Bristol Rovers who has eight goals including six in his last six games. They could then bring on 37-year-old Cameron Jerome – who has three goals in his last three games after not netting all season – and potentially ten-goal Victor Adeboyejo who has been injured but is back in full training and may be on the bench at his old club. That will be a tough and varied test for Williams, Mael de Gevigney and former Bolton loanee Josh Earl who are likely to form Barnsley’s back three.


The Reds midfield three of Connell, Herbie Kane and Adam Phillips – which was so successful last season – only started together in 15 of 46 league games this season.

That is mainly due to Connell’s illness early on then occasional injury lay-offs as well as Kane’s suspension and spell on the bench recently. Connell has, understandably having spent pre-season then weeks afterwards ill in bed, not replicated last season’s remarkable performances in defensive midfield.

His passing was erratic against Northampton on Saturday but he put in some thundering tackles and was trying to drive the team forward. Having come through the Bolton academy then become a pantomime villain last season for alleged time-wasting in the 0-0 league away draw, these are always big games for him.

It would be a fantastic time for him to rediscover his best form and potentially score his first ever goal at Oakwell.

Phillips and Kane are both in double figures for goals this season and will need to provide attacking impetus and creativity.

As a trio, the midfielders must also disrupt a Bolton side who cannot be given time and space to play their passing game.

Barnsley did that brilliantly in their away game at Bolton in February, with Sheehan losing the ball under pressure several times. Bolton’s defensive midfielder is a key player for them, with 12 assists this season, and played a big part in their comeback at Oakwell in March despite missing a late penalty.

He is likely to play alongside George Thomason, who was pressed into a mistake for the opening goal in March, and the more attacking Kyle Dempsey or Paris Maghoma.

On the flanks, Bolton’s dangerous wing-backs are likely to face Corey O’Keeffe and Nicky Cadden who will need to be at their very best after mixed seasons.


Jones played 17 games on loan from Everton to the Reds in the second half of the 2016/17 Championship season.

After making his debut in the famous 3-2 victory over Leeds United, he did not win another home game as Paul Heckingbottom’s side faltered following key January sales having looked outsiders for the play-offs.

After that unconvincing spell, he moved down the leagues with Fleetwood, Mansfield and Carlisle before appearing more than 150 times for the Trotters. Jones – who missed part of this season to play for Australia in the Asian Cup – impressed at right wing-back at Oakwell in March but usually plays on the right of a back three alongside Ricardo Santos and Eoin Toal.

McAtee finished the season strongly and netted 15 goals in all competitions including the opener the last time the teams met, while his pressing was very effective in the away game. The first leg could be the loanee’s final appearance at Oakwell so he will look to go out with a bang. Devante Cole – a former Fleetwood team-mate of Jones – has netted once in 16 games since his opener at Bolton in February but League One’s third most prolific striker this season is likely to start alongside McAtee up front.


Marc Iles, Bolton News

Anybody involved with Bolton last season can’t help but think they owe Barnsley one.

The two teams are so familiar now. Last season the first leg was very nervous then Barnsley did a fantastic job at Oakwell. Bolton knew after that they needed to add more creativity and punch in attack, which they have done.

I think these games will be a better watch.

There is definite disappointment to miss out on automatic promotion. They were very confident that would happen.

Bolton, on their day, can be a better team than both Derby and Portsmouth. But they have been too inconsistent.

That’s what gives you a little bit of doubt against Barnsley. If they play to their best, they should be OK but they are more than capable of having a bad day.

Bolton have struggled to find space passing out against Barnsley and they can struggle when forced to go more direct.

They have had to scramble back into games against Barnsley this season. They will look to start much better this time.


Trotters 1, Reds 1 – May 13, 2023

Barnsley finished five points clear of Bolton last season but had faltered slightly towards the end of the league campaign and some questioned if they had lost momentum. They took the lead in a tense play-off first leg in Bolton, through Nicky Cadden’s fine 20-yard finish, then conceded an equaliser when goalkeeper Harry Isted dropped a cross onto Dion Charles and the ball went in. Barnsley should have won the game but were denied by some top saves by James Trafford. The visitors also could have lost it at the end but Mads Andersen made a superb block when Dan N’Lundulu looked set to score.

Reds 1, Trotters 0 – May 19, 2023

Oakwell was sold out for the second leg of the play-offs, with a tremendous atmosphere. Liam Kitching headed in the winner on 24 minutes from a fine Luca Connell cross. Bolton complained that the goal came from a free-kick that was not a foul but it was cleared before Connell put in another cross. Wanderers were restricted to just a few half-chances then there was a full-time pitch invasion followed by a lap of honour for Michael Duff’s Wembley-bound side.

Trotters 1, Reds 1 – February 3, 2024

Barnsley took the lead after five minutes when Adam Phillips flicked on a Barry Cotter throw and Devante Cole turned in from close range. The visitors were on top for 60 minutes, pressing their hosts into regular mistakes as they tried to pass out from the back.

But Phillips, Cole and John McAtee all missed one-on-ones before Zac Ashworth beat Cotter to head in a leveller against the run of play midway through the second half.

Reds 2, Trotters 2 – March 5, 2024

Mael de Gevigney blocked a George Thomason pass on the edge of the box then McAtee beat the goalkeeper one-on-one. Donovan Pines – playing with a season-ending thigh injury sustained in the first half – smashed in minutes into the second half after Bolton could not clear a corner. Ex-Red Victor Adeboyejo replied after Bolton took a quick free-kick and broke. The visitors missed a series of huge chances as the Reds defended heroically, with Liam Roberts saving three one-on-ones and seeing his post rattled. But, deep in injury-time, Josh Earl conceded a penalty for an aerial foul on Cameron Jerome, one of several away substitutes who made an impact against a tired-looking home side who dropped deep. Josh Sheehan’s penalty was saved by Roberts but the untracked Randell Williams fired the rebound in.