Barnsley 0 Swansea City 1 - Reds target magic moments in Championship playoff second leg
THERE was precious little to shout about on the previous occasion that Oakwell staged a game in front of Barnsley supporters, also against Welsh opposition like tonight.
That arrived 436 days earlier. Cardiff, and not Swansea, were the visitors and on that forgettable early March afternoon in 2020 - the Reds’ last in front of home spectators before the first lockdown - thoughts inescapably turned to League One with the hosts rooted to the foot of the Championship and cast adrift after a 2-0 loss. There were a fair few justified grumbles in the process.
Plenty has happened since and the overwhelming majority of it has been wondrous.
Talk of the top tier as opposed to the third is on the agenda for those who follow the Reds these days, with a select number afforded the privilege of renewing their acquaintances in person at their second home following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
Unfortunately, the outcome this time around saw a team from the Principality again secure a victory, but there was plenty more pride and fight from a Barnsley perspective. And hope.
It was a game in which energy was expended in abundance and the physical commitment from both sides was total and amid the perspiration, there was a telling moment of inspiration and it was delivered in stunning fashion seven minutes before the break.
Mich has been made of Andre Ayew’s reported weekly wage packet of £80,000 - making him the top earner in the Championship by a fair way - but his contribution smacked of Premier League class and was top-dollar.
Found down the right channel by a perceptive pass from the recalled Kyle Naughton, he turned inside Michal Helik and while there did not seem too much on, the Ghanaian unleashed a brilliant and instinctive bending left-footed curler which was sheer perfection.
In a hard-fought encounter which had hitherto been an arm-wrestle, it proved a highly significant moment as Swansea claimed a third win over Barnsley in 2020-21. But only just.
A fourth and final meeting will take place at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday and while the hosts will undeniably be favourites to book their passage to a Wembley final on May 29, Valerien Ismael’s strong-willed iron men still have a cause as they aim to repeat famous feats at Brentford and Bournemouth and write another chapter in their remarkable story under the Frenchman.
The hope arrived in a second half where Barnsley rediscovered themselves after a passive first period, which saw the hosts create little.
Helik - called up to Poland’s squad for the forthcoming European Championships - had a half-chance before the break when he headed straight at Freddie Woodman while Romal Palmer fired an early curler over. The narrative would change in the second half.
Swans duo Ben Cabango and Marc Guehi were up for the fight against the Reds’ garlanded striker Daryl Dike.
But the arrival of a second cruiserweight in the shape of Carlton Morris at the start of the second half give Swansea’s rearguard much more to think about and food for thought for the definitive installment on Saturday.
Barnsley sought an adrenaline rush in front of the Pontefract Road end, where the voices were raucous and they got it. They craved a goal, but it would not come. Not for the want of trying.
Morris upped the ante right from the moment he drove at Swansea’s defence early on in the second half and saw his goalbound low strike unconvincingly parried by Freddie Woodman, who atoned to make an excellent follow-up save to get in the way of Callum Brittain’s rebound.
Another big moment arrived at the death when his flick from Cauley Woodrow’s corner clipped the woodwork.
It was not Barnsley’s day, but they live to fight another one.
There was euphoria ahead of kick-off as those fortunate enough to return to Oakwell luxuriated in being able to see their heroes in the flesh again.
At the end, there was defiance and applause for the efforts of a side, who included five Barnsley starters who had never played for the club in front of home fans before and a head coach who was making his bow in front of Reds spectators. The ovation at the start and the conclusion was stirring.
The first-half poise arrived from Ayew and Jamal Lowe sought something akin to a re-run in the second period, but his aim was thankfully wayward.
Barnsley are now seeking their own magic moment in Wales, just as they did in their play-off showpiece with Swansea - in Cardiff of all places - almost 15 years ago.
Barnsley: Collins, Sibbick, Helik, Andersen, Brittain, Palmer (J Williams 78), Mowatt, Styles, Frieser (Morris 45), Woodrow, Dike (Adeboyejo 88). Substitutes unused: Walton, Kitching, Chaplin, Halme, Sollbauer, Moon.
Swansea City: Woodman; Naughton, Cabango, Guehi, Bidwell; Grimes, Fulton, Hourihane; Ayew, Cullen (Routledge 69), Lowe. Substitutes unused: Hamer, Roberts, Manning, Bennett, Latibeaudiere, Smith, Dhanda, Whittaker.
Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne & Wear).
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