Barnsley have done it. They have beaten Bolton Wanderers 1-0 (2-1 on aggregate) at Oakwell on Friday night to book their place in next weekend’s play-off final against Sheffield Wednesday, giving us an exciting South Yorkshire derby at Wembley to look forward to.
The Tykes managed the game brilliantly as they played their way and frustrated the visitors in the first half, nicking the all-important goal that sent them through thanks to defender Liam Kitching’s powerful header. Barnsley are now one game away from sealing an instant return back to the Championship, a division where only two years ago, they were three games away from a place in the Premier League.
The home advantage served Barnsley well in the first half. They played on the front foot and asked a lot of questions of Bolton. You wouldn’t have thought that they had only won one of their four previous home legs in play-off campaigns.
Guardiola not making a change against Real Madrid was hardly shocking
Bolton were showing some strong defending, while James Trafford was called into action to make several saves, carrying on his fine work from the first leg. The Manchester City loanee was undone just before the half-hour mark, however. Former Bolton player Luca Connell whipped in an incredible cross into the box from the left and it was met perfectly by Kitching, to head the hosts in front.
The Tykes were seeing more of the ball, and Bolton struggled to get into a rhythm, something which left Trotters boss Ian Evatt a lot to think about at half time - with top scorer Dion Charles not getting a sniff in the opening 45.
#BARBOL | #EFLPlayOffs
Whatever the Bolton boss said to his players during the break certainly had an effect as they started the second half with intensity, as they started to ask their own questions of Barnsley’s defence. The Tykes had to weather the storm of Bolton’s pressure, but they soon were able to shift the momentum back into their favour around the hour mark.
The home crowd thought they had wrapped up the tie as Adam Phillips’ thunderous half volley on the edge of the box cannoned off the crossbar. Michael Duff’s men invited more pressure on themselves as Harry Isted handled a back pass from Mads Andersen. Bolton couldn’t capitalise from the indirect free-kick as Aaron Morley blazed over the bar. It kind of summed up the Trotters’ evening as they were wasteful whenever they did reach the final third.
Barnsley navigated themselves through the final stages of the match with relative ease to get them over the line, and now they can look ahead to what should be an enthralling contest with the Owls at Wembley. Given how fiercely competitive League One has been this year, it feels right to see the third-place and fourth-place clubs square-up against one another for the coveted third promotion spot.
As for Bolton, their wait to return to the second tier will go into a fifth campaign in 2023-24. Evatt and his players can take pride in what they have accomplished this year, and the foundations are certainly there for them to give it another good go next term.