IT had been a while since such a fuss had been made regarding a Barnsley lad before a game at Oakwell.
But after all the hullabaloo regarding the player in question – a visiting one at that in John Stones – how all those wearing the red of his former club did their utmost to threaten to steal the limelight in a classic cup tie which will be talked about for years.
The victors, after a fine comeback inspired by interval substitute Gerard Deulofeu who set up three goals, may have been Everton, who progressed in extra-time thanks to an own goal from the unfortunate Marc Roberts and Romelu Lukaku’s second strike on the night.
But equally worthy of the plaudits were magnificent Barnsley, who produced an inspired and brave performance.
Stones’s submitting of a transfer request amid persistent interest from champions Chelsea had put his nostalgic return to Oakwell with Everton in some doubt.
The 21-year-old, to the surprise of many, started. But for much of last night’s proceedings, he will have wished he was a good few miles away from his native South Yorkshire.
Everton had a wretched time of it in a first period which saw the effervescent Reds plunder two goals in the space of six captivating minutes with Sam Winnall and Marley Watkins on target.
A powerhouse second-half comeback restored parity just before the hour mark, courtesy of fine strikes from Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith, but after the latter’s equaliser came the immediate sting.
It was delivered by diminutive Arsenal loanee Dan Crowley, who turned in Reece Wabara’s cross barely a minute after the visitors levelled.
But in keeping with a breathless evening, Lukaku slid in a leveller 12 minutes from time and Barnsley buckled in extra-time.
Barnsley manager Lee Johnson, quite rightly, was proud of his players’ efforts on the night.
“I am very, very proud,” said the Reds’ manager. “Not just of the players, but the club. That’s what we are about.
“We gave everything against a Premier League side. Not just physically, but technically as well. I was so pleased for the players in individually getting their game out.
“I asked them before the game to enhance their reputations and that of club. I think everyone would say we did that.
“For large parts of that game, we were equal to a really top Premier League side and they had to make changes at half-time to live with us.”
Nil Satis Nisi Optimism is Everton’s Latin motto. It translates into English as ‘nothing but the best is good enough’ – something that Barnsley would have to produce if they were to extend Everton’s 20-year trophy drought.
Johnson’s youthful Reds produced that and a bit more besides to shake the Premier League foundations of the Merseysiders.
It was a precious chance, Johnson ventured, for his Reds babes to showcase their talents in front of a nationwide audience – and they did not disappoint.
Everton fielded just four of the side who lined up against Manchester City on Sunday, including Stones, with Barnsley having a 15 per cent sell-on clause that will rake in a number of few millions if he is sold. But it was still a formidable looking line-up, including a multitude of internationals, most notably Stones’s fellow England team-mates Phil Jagielka and Tom Cleverley and £28m man Lukaku.
Stones was afforded some appreciative claps from the big Blues following in the opening 20 minutes, which saw the visitors go close to an opener with former Everton academy goalkeeper and Liverpool fan Adam Davies denying Mirallas and Aiden McGeady.
At the other end, Winnall had gone close before, but was not to be denied on 22 minutes when he netted with a crisp, low strike on the turn after Everton dithered over Watkins’s centre.
With Everton rattled, the Reds amazingly doubled their lead after more lamentable defending.
Roberts’s left-wing cross was nodded back into the danger area and Watkins bundled home past the unconvincing Joel Robles.
It was the prelude to chants of ‘It’s Just Like Watching Brazil’, in stark context to the sentiments from the Everton’s 4,000-plus contingent at the interval, when they made their displeasure known both to Roberto Martinez and the visiting players.
Changes saw Ross Barkley and Deulofeu and the latter particularly helped instigate a strong rally. The arrears were reduced when Mirallas’s peach of a volley flew past Turner following Bryan Oviedo’s cross on 51 minutes.
Eight minutes later, Deulofeu’s delicious cross was headed home clinically by Naismith.
It looked like Barnsley’s resistance would be broken, but the hosts had other ideas with Crowley clinically turning in a cross from Wabara, who cleared off the line moments later.
The rip-roaring action continued with Lukaku sliding in Deulofeu’s centre to level on 78 minutes with Barkley, Naismith and Mirallas going close to winning it in normal time.
Roberts unluckily turned in Deulofeu’s cross to put Everton in front on 96 minutes. But Barnsley refused to give up, with Conor Hourihane hitting the bar and further testing Robles before Lukaku sealed it.
Barnsley: Davies; Wabara (Rothwell 94), Roberts, Mawson, Nyatanga; Watkins (Smith 105), Scowen, Pearson; Hourihane; Crowley; Winnall (Wilkinson 83). Unused substitutes: Townsend, Digby, Maris, Templeton.
Everton: Robles; Pennington (Deulofeu 46), Stones, Jagielka, Oviedo; Cleverley, Besic; McGeady (Barkley 46), Naismith, Mirallas (McCarthy 110); Lukaku. Unused substitutes: Howard, Kone, Browning, Holgate.
Referee: S Hooper (Wiltshire).