Barnsley’s dream of a Wembley day out in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy lives on despite a home 1-1 draw in the northern final first leg against Fleetwood.
Hot prospect Ashley Fletcher bagged a super equaliser for the Reds just six minutes after coming on as a substitute, only two days after joining the club on loan from Manchester United.
The hosts were forced to come back from behind after ‘keeper Adam Davies’s unfortunate own-goal, but though the Cod Army will probably now be slight favourites to progress after the second leg on Tuesday, February 2 on the Fylde coast, Johnson clearly still feels confident his side will secure a Wembley date against either Oxford or Millwall.
He said: “It was an okay result I think. It is only half-time of course. It was certainly a better result than it would have been had we not come back like we did.
“We didn’t really do enough in the first half, but in the second I thought we were in the ascendancy and unlucky not to have gone on and won.
“It was probably even in chances, but we controlled more of the territory.”
Johnson was pleased for Keighley-born new boy Fletcher (20), who joined the Reds on a one-month youth loan on Thursday.
The manager added: “The lads gave Ashley a great round of applause after the game for scoring his first senior goal, and after it he was walking round with a smile as big as a Cheshire cat.
“It was a great header, which followed a really good bit of movement.
“It was a horrible one to watch as we were waiting to see if the ball actually went over the line or not, but I was delighted for him.
“He’s not under pressure to be the main man here every week. He’s at a stage in his development when he’s got to impose himself and try and hit the ground running.
“What better start than that. He got 25 minutes, scored on his debut, so I was really pleased for him.”
Johnson had been forced into a couple of changes to his starting line-up.
Loan man Ben Pearson had returned to Manchester United, so his midfield place went to Brad Abbott, who made his first start of the season after appearing numerous times as an unused substitute.
Ryan Williams came in to play out wide after Marley Watkins was ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Fleetwood, who beat Bury in their previous League One fixture, made one change with Joe Davies returning to the heart of the defence in place of the injured Dionatan Teixeira.
A noisy Oakwel witnessed an enterprising, yet goalless first period. Fleetwood probably enjoyed the better of the clear-cut chances, particularly so in the 38th minute.
Antoni Sarcevic stormed clear of the Reds’ back-line, only to drag a shot inches wide.
Reds’ ‘keeper Davies also had to be at his brilliant best to palm Ashley Hunter’s arrowing drive round the post.
The Reds were denied when skipper Conor Hourihane saw his half-volley cleared off the line by the well-placed Sarcevic.
In the 23rd minute the recalled Williams ought to have done much better when he side-footed straight at ‘keeper Chris Maxwell after being smartly teed up by Adam Hammill.
There were chances galore at both ends in what turned out to be a pulsating second period.
The Reds thought they had struck the opener when Maxwell inadvertently punched Hammill’s corner-kick towards his own goal, only for Sarcevic to make another dramatic stop on the line.
A scrappy goal then gave the Cod Army the on the hour.
Hunter found space down the left and whipped in a low cross, with the ball somehow eventually squirming through the grasp of Davies and Kevin Long before creeping over the line.
It was tough on the Reds, but they rallied swiftly and Hourihane dragged a shot wide from inside the box.
The hosts grabbed their equaliser with 16 minutes left - and what a dream strike it was from loan star Fletcher.
Fresh from the bench, he darted into the box to powerfully head home Hammill’s cross, in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was Fleetwood who had the better chances to snatch a winning goal late in the game.
Conor McLaughlin, Jamie Proctor and Amari’i Bell all went close to handing the visiting a potentially precious advantage, but Barnsley stood firm and the 90-minute Wembley shoot-out on the Fylde coast on February 2 is now set up perfectly.
Fleetwood boss Steven Pressley said: “Forget the FA Cup, the JPT final was the game to be at here.
“This was a fantastic advert for the competition.
“It featured two fully committed teams going for the win. The atmosphere was terrific inside the stadium and I’ve got absolutely no complaints about the outcome.”
BARNSLEY (4-4-1-1): Davies 6; Wabara 7, Long 6, Mawson 7, A White 8; Isgrove 8, Abbott 7, Hourihane 6, Hammill 8; R Williams 5 (Fletcher 68, 7); Winnall 6. Subs not used: Townsend, Bree, Roberts, Templeton.
GOAL: Fletcher 74
BOOKED: Hammill (45), Winnall (57), Williams (63).
FLEETWOOD (4-3-3): Maxwell 7; McLaughlin 5, Pond 7, Davis 6, Bell 7; Sarcevic 8, Jonsson 7, Ryan 5; Proctor 6, Grant 6 (Forbes 70, 5), Hunter 8 (Haughton 76, 5). Subs not used: Jordan, Nirennold, Gogic.
goal: Davies (og) 60)
BOOKED: Davis (38), Sarcevic (61), Grant (64).
REF: Fred Graham (Essex).