Barnsley FC v Bolton Wanderers: Why seasoned play-off veteran James Norwood views Reds' inexperience as a good thing

JAMES NORWOOD can provide chapter and verse on play-off football.

The vastly-experienced Barnsley striker has pretty much seen it all.

From Wembley glory in successive seasons in the colours of Tranmere Rovers to final heartache against a former club and semi-final elimination.

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Not too many will make predictions with any degree of certainty regarding the outcome of tonight's definitive second leg with Bolton Wanderers.

Barnsley striker James Norwood. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.Barnsley striker James Norwood. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Barnsley striker James Norwood. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Listen to Norwood and the one thing that is guaranteed is gripping end-of-season tension. Reds coach Michael Duff can be safe in the knowledge that the 32-year-old won't get overly affected by it as he has been there and got the T-shirt.

Many others in red will be much less experienced on paper this evening. But Norwood has a theory in that regard.

He said: "I think this is my fifth play-off. I have lost in the semis and final and won two finals. I have experienced it all and know about how it can feel.

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"The beauty of it with these lads is that there's not many with any (play-off) campaigns between them. They are sort of naïve to the severity of the game, which is a very good thing for me.

"They are in good spirits and no-one is overly worrying about the game. It is definitely something that can help us if we treat it like another game, it will put us in good stead.

"I said to them don't panic if things don't go our way. We are a good enough team to get back into the game and win, that's the most important thing.

"We have spoken many times this season that we have broken games down into two halves. If the first doesn't go our way, we can come in, reset and go out to win the second half."

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Norwood's reference about not panicking on high-stakes occasions like tonight comes from a fair amount of experience.

Should it prove hazardous and not pan out in the way that the hosts would like from the outlet at Oakwell, his team-mates could do worse than familiarise themselves with his own history beforehand.

Back in the Conference play-offs in 2017-18, Norwood's previous club Tranmere trailed twice on home soil against Ebbsfleet United in a one-legged semi-final before getting over the line, with the forward scoring twice in a 4-2 win.

He went onto grab the winner two minutes from time in the final against Boreham Wood, with a header which seemed to take an eternity to find the net - all this coming after Rovers saw one of their players dismissed inside the opening sixty seconds.

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After assuming hero status for firing the goal which propelled the Wirral outfit back into the Football League, Norwood was part of another dramatic success story in the following campaign.

Tranmere backed up by claiming promotion to League One, with Norwood getting a key goal in their tense 2-1 semi-final aggregate win over old side Forest Green before Rovers edged out Newport County 1-0 in the showpiece, thanks to a goal right at the end of extra-time.

On those dual memories, Norwood said: "It's (his winning goal) a moment I will never forget and lives long in the memory. A goal at Wembley means so much more if you win.

“I was then involved in one where we scored in the 119th minute and it meant as much as the play-off final when I scored.

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"The feeling you feel if you don't succeed (in the play-offs) is one of the worst feelings you get in your career. The other side is that when that final whistle blows (and you win), it's the best feeling.

"There's a real togetherness within the squad and that's the biggest thing about getting over the line. Things can go against you. One year we went up, we went 1-0 and 2-1 down in the semi-final and came back and won it.

"We didn't panic and knew we were a good side. It is similar to the squad we have got now here; young, enthusiastic and energetic and we have a lot of quality in the squad.

"Five play-off campaigns in 15 years is good going for me. Obviously, I'd like to win another one and make it a trilogy and go to the ‘Promised Land’ of the Championship.

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"I want to get to the end of the season having played for something. There won't be many moments which have come close to this for many in their football career."

As for whether Norwood will be sticking around next season, that remains to be seen and will be answered in due course.

The striker is coming towards the end of his 12-month deal, but there is an option to extend it.

On his future, Norwood, yet to sample Championship football in his long career, continued: "It's a difficult one to answer. Nothing is set in stone. It's about winning and moving onto Wembley.

"Whatever happens, happens and football takes care of itself."

Last six games: Barnsley DWLDLD; Bolton DWLWWD.

Referee: J Smith (Lincs).

Last time: Barnsley 0 Bolton 3, January 2, 2023; League One.