JP Trophy success elevates Barnsley, says Ashley Fletcher

WEMBLEY is almost a second home for Ashley Fletcher right now.

Ashley Fletcher beats the Oxford goalkeeper during the JP Trophy last month.

Not only is the Keighley-born striker looking forward to his second visit in as many months as a Barnsley player, but he was also at the national stadium last weekend for the FA Cup final.

Manchester United, the club he joined as a 13-year-old, were taking on Crystal Palace and Fletcher could not resist the opportunity to watch his parent club in action.

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United’s triumph means the 20-year-old will bag a notable hat-trick of successes at one of world football’s iconic venues if Barnsley can overcome Millwall in Sunday’s League One play-off final.

Ashley Fletcher, Adam Hammill and Conor Hourihane with the trophy. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“Wembley is a great place to go,” said Fletcher, who moved to Oakwell on loan in January just as the season was turning around for the South Yorkshire club. “All the lads are buzzing to be going back and we definitely go there full of confidence.

“Winning the Trophy was a great day and maybe it has catapulted us on to greater things. The experience could help us when going back, too. It is a ground we like and, hopefully, we can go there and do the business again.”

Fletcher made an immediate impact after making the move from Old Trafford early in 2016. His first game brought a goal as Barnsley drew 1-1 with Fleetwood Town in the Northern Area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, a strike that ultimately proved crucial in taking Barnsley to Wembley as the second leg had to be settled on penalties.

That the Oakwell meeting with Fleetwood was his first professional game said a lot about the striker’s temperament and level-headed attitude.

Ashley Fletcher, Adam Hammill and Conor Hourihane with the trophy. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Since then, Fletcher has added a further seven goals, the most recent coming in the play-off semi-final second leg against Walsall, to underline his value to the Reds’ cause, alongside top scorer Sam Winnall.

“I can’t have imagined it going better,” said Fletcher when asked about the past five or so months at Oakwell.

“I did have confidence in the team before I came, I knew there were some good players here and lots of ability, it just needed a change of fortune.

“We got that and things have gone from there. The results have been superb and I believe we have grown as a team as it has gone on, even over the last few weeks.

“The goals have come along with the clean sheets. It has helped us push up the league and I feel we are in a good state to go to Wembley.”

Barnsley, of course, already know all about winning at the national stadium after defeating Oxford United at the start of last month to lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

“Wembley was a big day but it wasn’t what changed things,” added Fletcher, who joined United officials at last weekend’s Cup final. “We were on a good run before then.

“But maybe that day pushed us on a little bit and we showed against Walsall (in the semi-finals) what we are all about. I felt we put in a mature performance and that said a lot about this group. We are not just about ability and hard work, there is a real togetherness.

“Millwall will have been watching us on the television ahead of their own game and I doubt they would have been relishing playing us at the moment.

“We are on fire in terms of goals and also in terms of defending as well. We go to Wembley full of confidence.”