Barnsley stand tall and proud despite tearful exit to Swansea City

A FAMOUS work of Dylan Thomas – that celebrated son of Swansea – is entitled ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’

Get in: Cauley Woodrow beats Freddy Woodman to give Barnsley hope. Pictures: Bruce Rollinson
Get in: Cauley Woodrow beats Freddy Woodman to give Barnsley hope. Pictures: Bruce Rollinson

Barnsley could not have been accused of that on Saturday evening, anything but. The death knell may have been delivered on their epic 2020-21 season and there will be no grand occasion at Wembley, but they raged against the dying of the light.

In their final game of 2019-20, they were fighting for Championship life at Griffin Park, not the Premier League.

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Exactly 10 months to the day, those brave boys with stout hearts were battling to reach the big time. It may not have transpired, yet success is the journey, not a destination.

Deflated: Alex Mowatt and Valerien Ismael at full-time.

As it often does in the transient world of football, talk will quickly turn to the future in some quarters and there will be the inevitable chatter about the departure of key players and the likelihood of Saturday being the final games for the likes of captain Alex Mowatt and indomitable loan signing Daryl Dike and maybe others.

The potential for the Reds’ exceptional head coach Valerien Ismael to be enticed away will also do the rounds, no doubt.

Ismael strikes the right tone on most occasions as he did late on Saturday and his desire for everyone to reflect for a short while on just what the club have achieved this season was right. He has a way with words, just as he does with setting up teams.

It was fitting that his courageous crew went out by the front door. They may have belatedly come to the party at the Liberty, yet they were never going to go quietly after Cauley Woodrow’s rapier strike on 71 minutes cancelled out Matt Grimes’s stunner .

It made for a stirring finale in the best play-off traditions. Needing a goal to draw level on aggregate, Barnsley – whose performance in the final half-hour was rousing – frightened the life out of a home side who had the tie firmly in their grasp before that.

Swansea survived to set up a revenge match with Brentford – their play-off conquerors last season. Only just. Barnsley’s next tumultuous end-of-season finale with the Bees will have to wait.

For the visitors, there was understandable hurt at a special story ending a game early.

When the dust settles, there should be pride at a season which gave so much in difficult times.

In the final analysis, Barnsley were undone by two moments of class in this semi-final – coincidentally in the same 39th minute of each leg.

One was delivered by one of the best midfielders in the division in Grimes, whose finish was sublime, and the other arrived at Oakwell from the player on the highest wages in the Championship in Andre Ayew, whose weekly wage packet of £78,000 was comfortably more than the Reds’ starting line-up on Saturday night.

If that does not provide context, nothing ever will.

Woodrow, who struck his 15th goal of the season – Barnsley’s first in four games against Swansea this term – said: “It was fine margins. They scored two unbelievable goals in both legs, really.

“We pushed and pushed. In the first leg, we had a few chances and in the second, we had a few and on another day, they go in.

“I cannot remember them having loads of chances, but they scored two good goals and that it was has put them through. That is how football works.

“Last season, we stayed up on the final day and everyone was writing us off. This season, we have got into a semi-final play-off game, which is a remarkable turnaround with practically the same squad with a few additions.

“When we take a step back and see what we have achieved this season, it is pretty remarkable and we should be really proud of ourselves.

“We have come miles from last year. We played against a Swansea team with a massive budget and an amazing club in a semi-final fighting to go to Wembley.”

Woodrow’s latter statement alludes to the against-the-odds nature of Barnsley’s achievement. In Wales, they also had to contend with a second exquisite Swansea opener in the space of five days, but also a refereeing performance that seemed to take a dim view of their physicality.

A number of decisions from John Brooks looked soft.

The free-kick which helped instigate the breakthrough was charitable after Michael Helik was penalised for a challenge on Wayne Routledge. That said, there was no debate whatsoever about Grimes’s finish.

Conor Hourihane’s set-piece was punched clear by Brad Collins, who did not get enough purchase. It was ruthlessly punished.

Picking the ball up just outside the area, Grimes’s first touch was splendid as was his skill to deceive Callum Brittain and his curler was pinpoint and deadly.

It ensured Swansea, who possessed the limited first-half poise on show, had the tie exactly where they wanted.

Ismael had to make interval changes and did, with Dike replacing Victor Adeboyejo – who did not take his chance. It was the introduction of Jordan Williams which reaped the harvest.

A rare flowing move from the visitors ended in Williams’s shot being blocked by Jake Bidwell before the substitute set up an equaliser that was swift and clinical.

Williams surged away down the right and his low cross was ruthlessly finished in unerring fashion by Woodrow. Game on.

Barnsley threw everything at Swansea in the last quarter with Carlton Morris and Helik having half-chances. It was not to be, but what a story in 20-21, nevertheless.

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