Barnsley v Walsall: Reds’ Sam Winnall targets another champagne moment at Wembley

CHEERS: Barnsley's Sam Winnall takes a well-earned drink at Wembley. Picture: Tony Johnson
CHEERS: Barnsley's Sam Winnall takes a well-earned drink at Wembley. Picture: Tony Johnson
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SPEAK to any footballer who has sampled the champagne highs of Wembley and you will soon discover their greed for another fill of that intoxicating brew.

Many plying their trade would give anything to be afforded the chance to savour that delicious feeling just once in their career, let alone twice.

As for twice in the same season? Perish the thought. But one thing is for sure, success at the home of football is the most potent of drugs.

Once you experience it, there is nothing quite like it.

Just ask Barnsley striker Sam Winnall and his Reds team-mates.

The Midlander is the first to admit that envisaging a re-run of the popping of corks and the spraying of bubbly amid delicious post-match scenes on the hallowed turf of Wembley and in the dressing rooms following their Johnstone’s Paint Trophy triumph over Oxford United 41 days ago is some way off.

But in its own way, it remains tantalising close as Barnsley seek to join an exclusive gathering of clubs who have celebrated twice in the same season at Wembley.

Those who have savoured that thrilling feat include Arsenal’s class of 1992-93 who lifted both domestic cup competitions at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday, while Chelsea achieved the same FA Cup and League Cup double in 2006-07.

As for the lower division clubs, there is just one example of a side who have followed up Spring glory in the Football League Trophy, in its many guises, with promotion at the national stadium at season’s end.

Step forward Grimsby Town’s all-conquering side of 1997-98, managed by Mariners legend Alan Buckley.

It is the club where Buckley made his name as a player in Walsall who stand between Barnsley and a second Wembley appearance in under two months.

And while Winnall may not be counting his chickens on that score, he would plainly be a liar if he said that the notion of more glory at the best place possible to sample it has not crossed his mind.

Winnall, who will spearhead the Reds’ forward line in today’s semi-final first leg at Oakwell, set for its biggest attendance since 17,532 saw the Easter Saturday game against Sheffield United in April 2015, said: “We have experienced it once this season and winning at Wembley once.

“I remember for a few days after the JPT, all I could think about was doing it again and I know I can speak for the rest of the squad who felt exactly the same.

“Because it was such a great occasion, you just want to do it over and over as those are the type of games you will remember when your career is over and the ones you want to play in when you are still playing.”

Just as Barnsley were in a good place form wise ahead of that JPT finale with Oxford, so – six weeks on – the Reds have a similar skip in their step ahead of the arrival of the Saddlers.

A fantastic 4-1 final-day victory at champions Wigan, very much in keeping with a staggering upturn in fortunes since Christmas, secured Barnsley’s play-off berth, with Paul Heckingbottom’s side having been beaten once in seven matches since winning at Wembley on April 3.

The handling of what was a pressurised environment for the Reds, backed by 4,700 visiting fans at the DW Stadium on Sunday, certainly augured well for play-off participation, more especially after coming from a goal behind to beat the Latics – with Winnall the guilty party after a sloppy pass was seized upon by the hosts who went on to score.

The forward showed his mettle to take the blow on the chin and retort with two goals in an impressive individual performance.

Winnall added: “To go to Wigan, who safe to say are the best team in the league and win so comfortably and convincingly shows the strength we have got in the squad.

“It also showed how we could produce a performance when the pressure was on and the manner which we did it was fantastic and something we should be proud of.

“We could have gone under at 1-0, but didn’t and went from strength to strength and it showed the character that if we do go down in a big game, we don’t panic and get the job done in the end.

“You look at every single game we have had (this year), something has been on the line. We have had massive games, none bigger than the game at Wigan.

“As a group, we can take a lot of pride in that when it has mattered and under pressure, we have got the results.

“We are really excited and everyone is in good spirits after that win. For a lot of people in the squad, it is their first time in the play-offs and I think everyone is buzzing to be here and driven to make another Wembley appearance.”