TWO GOALS in just under two breathtaking second-half minutes from Barnsley top-scorer Sam Winnall left the Reds well on course for a Wembley return after a vibrant 3-0 slaying of the Saddlers.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy winners choose the perfect time to record the club’s first-ever play-off victory at Oakwell and they head to the Midlands on Thursday in a thoroughly good place after a comprehensive victory over away-day specialists Walsall - with their remarkable second half of 2015-16 continuing in storybook fashion.
The Reds forged a breakthrough moments before the break when Jason Demetriou deflected Adam Hammill’s close range effort into the net.
This came after the hosts were wrongly denied a 22nd-minute opener for offside by the flag of linesman Mark Duncan when Lloyd Isgrove, a couple of yards onside, steered in Hammill’s wonderful centre.
But the Reds were assuaged by proceedings for the rest of the game with Barnsley thoroughly dominant and well placed for a second appearance at the home of football in under two months with cries of “We’re going to Wembley twice” ringing out from ecstatic home fans during a dream second half.
Winnall’s double took his seasonal tally to a hugely impressive 24 in the process.
Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom said: “It was a good night, but it will mean nothing if we don’t see the job through.
“We’ve put ourselves in good position, but have not got what we are after yet. We must have the same mindset on Thursday.
“It was the best atmosphere of the season and best I have seen here for a long long time. It was great.
“Sam Winnall did well and is coming into his goalscoring form again, similar to January.”
The main talking point of the first half looked destined to be the erroneous decision to rule out Isgrove’s effort, but the sting was drawn slightly by the hosts taking the lead moments before the interval.
Winnall showed strength and tenacity to get away down the right and his instinctive his pull-back found its way to Hammill, backing up, and his close-range effort flew past Neil Etheridge, with the aid of a significant deflection off the unfortunate Demetriou.
Just five minutes earlier at the other end, the Reds heaved a sigh of relief with Saddlers’ top-scorer Tom Bradshaw inches away from firing the visitors in front, with his side-footed shot trickling inches wide after ex-Reds player Milan Lalkovic got the better of makeshift right-back Josh Scowen.
After a quiet start, the Reds forged the first chance with the lively Isgrove’s fine centre just evading Winnall before the loan winger saw his scorching 25-yarder tipped over smartly by Etheridge.
From Hammill’s resulting corner, Alfie Mawson headed straight at Etheridge, before play switched straightaway to the other end when Bradshaw’s shot was held by Adam Davies after slick approach play.
A half-shout for a home penalty was dismissed after Isgrove tumbled under pressure from Rico Henry before some serious controversy then reigned with a linesman’s flag wrongly denying Isgrove an opener.
Walsall’s best moment of the first half hour then arrived when a free-kick in a dangerous position was controversially awarded after Isgrove felled Kieron Morris with Anthony Forde’s sweet effort beaten away impressively by Davies.
Neat interplay between Romaine Sawyers and Demetriou then ended in the latter shooting low at Davies when well placed before Bradshaw spurned an excellent chance - which was punished just before the break with the Reds forging an interval lead.
Linesman Duncan exited the fray at the interval with a calf injury and he was replaced by fourth official Jeremy Simpson.
A lively start to the second half saw the Reds come close to a second when referee Peter Bankes played a terrific advantage after Ashley Fletcher was fouled near the centre circle by Demetriou with Isgrove racing away, but with options to the side of him, he went solo with his goalbound shot beaten away by Etheridge.
Lalkovic, giving Scowen a tough time, then saw a shot saved by Davies with Forde’s follow-up effort blocked before the start of a vintage few minutes from the Reds put them firmly in the box seat.
First, Winnall’s rising shot, with the aid of slight deflection off James O’Connor flew past Etheridge to the delight of the Pontefract Road end.
Less than two minutes later, Winnall was celebrating again after outwitting Walsall defender and racing clear in goal with his cool finish beating Etheridge to put the Reds in dream land and displaying the class of a marksman.
The dual hammer blow floored Walsall, and the best they could muster in response with a Bradshaw header which drifted wide.
A genuine moment of danger did see Forde come close to reducing the arrears on 73 minutes when a rasping low shot flew just wide before sub Sam Mantom showed a distinct lack of composure to fire wastefully over from a tight angle.
Barnsley: Davies; Scowen, Roberts, Mawson, Williams; Isgrove (Chapman 84), Brownhill, Hourihane, Hammill; Fletcher (White 77), Winnall (Toney 67). Substitutes unused: Townsend, Cowgill, McCourt, Tuton.
Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou; Downing, O’Connor, Henry; Chambers; Forde, Sawyers, Morris (Mantom 60), Lalkovic (Cook 84); Bradshaw (Hiwula 71). Substitutes unused: MacGillivray, Taylor, Preston, Osbourne.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).
Attendance: 16,051 (2,093 Walsall supporters).