As well as being a Championship play-off semi-final first leg which Swansea City edged 1-0, the game was also a celebration of everything that has happened since fans were last allowed into a Barnsley game, on March 7, 2020.
In that time the Reds not only pulled off a remarkable escape from relegation under Gerhard Struber last season, but finished fifth this term.
On top of that, there was an appreciation that the team played better than the narrow scoreline suggested, Brittain missing a good chance at the start of the second half to cancel Andre Ayew’s goal out, and substitute Callum Morris hit the crossbar from another right at the end. The performance gave wing-back Brittain great confidence his side can still progress to the Wembley final.
He was touched by the reception from 4,500 fans who made a noise more in keeping with 10 times that.
“It was nice to have them back and they really appreciated the work that went in this season,” said Brittain, whose other 43 Barnsley appearances came behind closed doors.
“They deserved to be there more this season and I’m gutted they couldn’t be but I really appreciate them all staying to the end and giving us a really big applause.
“I can’t thank them enough.
“It definitely didn’t feel like 4,000 fans, I can tell you that.
“Coming out for the warm-up, it almost gave you the chills.
“It was amazing and too long a wait if you ask me. The atmosphere was incredible.
“They stayed to the end and deserved a goal.
“They really get behind you, they feel the work ethic of the team and apply pressure to another team. It was a really amazing feeling.”
Even manager Valerien Ismael was pleasantly surprised by the passion in the Oakwell terraces, and said it showed just why he wanted to manage in the Championship.
Like Brittain, the Frenchman had never experienced Oakwell with supporters before but he had sampled the Champions League as a Bayern Munich player, appeared in the Premier League for Crystal Palace and plenty of big Bundesliga and Ligue 1 games besides.
Ismael had a brief spell as a Crystal Palace centre-back in the mid-1990s, but Monday’s atmosphere was on a completely different level.
“It was an incredible thing,” said Ismael, who took over as Reds manager in October.
“Even though I dreamed about this it was incredible, the emotion, the passion, the emotional connection.
“This is exactly why we love football and it was simply a great feeling.”
With only Swansea fans allowed into the second leg at the Liberty Stadium, Brittain hopes that can be used to his side’s advantage against a team who finished higher in the Championship, have a much bigger budget, and now a one-goal lead.
“If we play with our intensity and apply a lot of pressure we can try and turn their fans on their own team so hopefully we can do what we did in the second half and get a result,” he argued.
“We’ve been away to some good teams this season and had some really good comebacks.
“We all believe we can go and do it again.
“We really had them pinned back in the second half. We created chances which is the hardest thing to do and if we can keep creating chances like that, we just need to take one.
“We hit the bar at the end, I had a good chance, Cauley (Woodrow) had a good chance and we were unfortunate not to score so I think we can take that second-half performance into Saturday and have a real belief in ourselves.
“I just thought too much about (my chance) and keeping it on target rather than hitting it into the back of the net. I’m devastated but hopefully I get another chance.”
Brittain and Ismael both felt it took Barnsley a while to get used to the atmosphere, striking the right balance between playing their trademark intense football and being too frantic.
“It was a weird feeling, surreal,” admitted Brittain, signed from Milton Keynes Dons in October. “We haven’t had fans for over a year so it took some getting used to because there was a lot of emotion in the first half in the crowd and the players but once we calmed down we played our usual way.
“It had almost felt normal to not have fans there so to have them back was a great feeling and something that really helps the game.”
Ismael added: “It was a new situation for the players and we are all human beings. It was a normal reaction.
“I can understand it took us a while to get used to the emotion but we dealt with it perfectly in the second half.
“On Saturday there’s only one way, we have to score goals and put the pressure on Swansea. Maybe it’s better for us now to have that focus.”
The winners of the tie will meet either Brentford or Bournemouth in the May 29 final. The Bees also have a 1-0 deficit to overturn in Saturday’s home game.
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