Slapstick proved spot on as Barnsley sank the Swans - sporting bygones
For those Barnsley players involved on the last feted occasion that the Reds faced Swansea City in the play-offs almost exactly 15 years ago, that golden period in late May, 2006 is stuck in time and provided moments that none of them will forget in a hurry.
History will denote how Barnsley, under the shrewd command of Andy Ritchie and the irrepressible Rick Holden, beat the Swans 4-3 on penalties in the 2005-06 League One play-off final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium after the game ended 2-2 after extra-time.
Boyhood Barnsley fan and former assistant head-coach Dale Tonge remembers that day as if it was yesterday, with Reds followers naturally hoping for a similar outcome when the two sides convene in the play-offs, with the semi-final first leg taking place at Oakwell tonight.
It would be nice if it proved not quite as nerve-wracking.
For Tonge, who came on as a substitute for Brian Howard in the 73rd minute of the final, it was the build-up ahead of the game which also sticks out as much as anything – and perhaps laid the foundations for what was to come from a relaxed Barnsley side whose young hearts ran free like the current crop of 2020-21.
Tonge told The Yorkshire Post: “I will always remember the build-up and what Andy Ritchie did in creating the environment where it was so jovial and relaxing. The boys did not feel any pressure.
“We went down a couple of days before and stayed at a lovely hotel in St David’s. Where we trained was a beautiful place, but the conditions were absolutely awful.
“It came down in buckets and you could not train, it was that bad. You could not even pass a ball as the pitch was that flooded and we were just jumping about in puddles, going berserk.
“I am thinking: ‘Hold on a minute, we have got a game in two days!’ A massive game to get in the Championship and we are rolling about, getting wet through.
“We were doing ‘Klinsmann’s’ (dives) and things you would never prepare for in terms of a game. It was slapstick to be honest, but that was Andy and Rick and how they helped us.
“With the group we had, it was perfect management as we were all kids. It was really good and put us all at ease.
“He knew what group he had and we were all ‘idiots’, in the nicest possible way. Good, young lads who all loved each other and had a common aim.
“He knew how to get the best out of us. He knew when to make it serious and when to make it jovial.”
Barnsley were deadly serious when it mattered on a see-saw finals day against the Swans, backed by 35,000 supporters and with a clear edge in terms of crowd numbers in the Principality with the Reds being backed by 20,000 followers in the 55,419 attendance.
Paul Hayes gave the Reds the lead with a far-post volley on 19 minutes but the Swans levelled within 10 minutes following a bicycle kick from ex-Oakwell striker Rory Fallon.
A wretched mistake from Nick Colgan enabled Swansea to go in front before the break when he fumbled Andy Robinson’s harmless looking shot.
But the Irish goalkeeper would emphatically have the last laugh.
It was former Swans loanee Daniel Nardiello who put the Reds level on 62 minutes when his free-kick beat Willy Gueret and no further goals arrived in regulation time or extra-time, despite Swansea pressing and posting the most threat and being the dominant side.
The scene was set for Gueret and Colgan. “Who’d be a keeper?” as the Reds custodian famously joked after the shoot-out.
Colgan turned from hero to villain to make the crucial save to deny Alan Tate, a current coach at the Liberty Stadium, with Ade Akinfenwa having earlier fired his penalty over.
Hayes, Antony Kay, Paul Heckingbottom and Chris Shuker all scored for Barnsley.
Tonge recalls: “Any Barnsley fan will tell you that we weren’t the better team and Swansea were by far the better team.
“Against the run of play, we managed to get it to 2-2 by the skin of our teeth. It was one of those days where the luck was with us.
“I think the penalties was the most confident I had been. Stitch (Ritchie) and Rick had us doing penalties for a few weeks and we were really confident as most of the boys were really good at penalties.
“Added to that, we knew Nicky was different class at saving them. How he read a penalty was brilliant.
“It was probably our best opportunity as we knew how good we were at taking them and how good Nicky was at saving them and it was no surprise.
“I vividly remember their players laughing at our penalty-takers when they were going up. Every single one of them were cool as cucumbers. Good as gold.
“They were giving us stick on the line in their huddle saying to the defenders going up: ‘What are you doing going up there?’ I remember thinking: ‘You have not got a clue, these are our coolest players.’
“Nicky did his job and the rest was history. I was actually down as number six after Macca (Stephen McPhail).
“I was confident to take one if I had to, but absolutely ‘bricking it’ at the same time... But I knew Macca was in front of me and he was safe as houses. He’d have never missed.”
Barnsley’s party night would be similarly unforgettable, with canny manager Ritchie again playing a blinder in terms of man-management.
Instead of celebrating in the Welsh capital, the Reds squad quickly returned to Yorkshire, via an impromptu stop-off at a supermarket.
Tonge added: “It got said quite quickly after: ‘Listen, we are going home.’ I remember we came out of the ground and 200 yards away, there was a Tesco.
“I remember Stitch getting off and saying: ‘Look, get everything in the aisle that has alcohol above it and don’t worry about anything else.’
“Every player got off and emptied the whole Tesco Express and we put it back on the bus and Stitch paid for the lot.
“The journey back was something you could never forget. Some of the things that happened…
We got back into town and did not pay for a drink for two weeks. It was carnage, but brilliant and you have to celebrate with the people.
“The first pub we went into was O’Dwyer’s, bang in the centre of town, an Irish pub with a big Barnsley following. Good times.”
Barnsley will be seeking another glory night when they head to the Principality on Saturday for their second leg at the Liberty Stadium in Wales.
Plus a similarly joyous coach ride back to South Yorkshire, with a bit of luck.
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