The day Barnsley banished the Blues and play-off nerves on road to Wembley

MOST play-off ties are the equivalent of arm wrestles – tense, nip-and-tuck occasions where margins are usually tight.

On target: Bruce Dyer celebrates after scoring Barnsley's second goal against Birmingham City.

Then there were the events of 20 years ago, which could not have been more different.

It was a day that Craig Hignett and anyone connected with Barnsley will not forget in a hurry.

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Hurry being the operative word after scores of Birmingham City supporters invaded the pitch at the final whistle of their First Division play-off semi-final first leg with the Reds at St Andrew’s on May 13, 2000 – and not in celebration either.

Dave Bassett’s side did not just beat the Blues – managed by his former Steel City rival Trevor Francis – they registered the biggest margin of victory for a second-tier away side since the end-of-season lottery’s inception.

A year earlier in May, 1999, Blues fans had seen their heroes heartbreakingly denied a Wembley final berth after losing on penalties to Watford in their own backyard after their semi-final ended level at 1-1 on aggregate.

Humiliation was the order of the day this time around after Barnsley – inspired by Hignett, two-goal Bruce Dyer and Neil Shipperley – all but rubber-stamped their place in the showpiece at the home of football after a crushing 4-0 triumph.

Hignett coolly fired home the fourth goal in front of Barnsley’s delirious away contingent in the Railway End to round off the scoring six minutes from time – and was grateful for a timely piece of advice from referee Mark Halsey just before the end as home supporters bristled with indignation.

Hignett told The Yorkshire Post: “The referee was saying to us: ‘Look, I am going to blow now, so get yourselves over this side of the pitch.’

“You could see all the boys going over there as you have to go off in the corner. They (Birmingham fans) just stormed the pitch and there were a couple of kicks and punches aimed at a few lads. But we all managed to get off and were safe.

“But it was thanks to the referee, who gave us a bit of a heads-up.

“It was just one of those games where with everything that we hit, it went in.

“We played well in the game and were good value for it. But I think, if I am honest, they froze a little bit at their place.

“Bruce and Neil were a real handful and Bruce was obviously different class on the day.”

That said, that day in the West Midlands was far from straight-forward for Barnsley, who lost key midfield enforcer Robin Van der Laan after 80 seconds, while his replacement, Geoff Thomas, had to be substituted on the half-hour.

It was Thomas’s replacement in Dyer who came to the party in splendid fashion on the restart.

Barnsley led 1-0 at the interval thanks to a clinical low strike from Shipperley on 12 minutes which was aided by a mistake in the build-up from home defender Darren Purse.

It was a sign of things to come from the Blues’ rearguard, who simply went to pieces.

Early in the second half, David Holdsworth and Gary Rowett erred and Dyer seized upon the uncertainty in an instant, powering his way through before beating goalkeeper Thomas Myhre.

The striker, unplayable on his day, added his second and Barnsley’s third on the hour following a lovely pass from Eric Tinkler and the visitors were in dreamland.

Birmingham’s day would assume nightmare proportions when Dyer’s clever curling pass found Hignett, who unerringly netted his 20th goal of the season.

It was the final act of a brutal evening for the hosts. The word that a distinctly under-whelmed Francis used to describe it was ‘sickening’.

To this day, it is just the second occasion that a visiting side have won by a four-goal margin in a play-off away leg.

The other, back in 1989, saw Bristol Rovers win 4-0 at Fulham in the Third Division semi-finals.

Barnsley would lose the second leg 2-1 at Oakwell, but the result was rendered insignificant by those spectacular earlier events.

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