Barnsley are heading to Wembley!
The heroic Reds held their nerve in dramatic style last night as they defeated hosts Fleetwood Town 4-2 on penalties to win the northern area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Goalkeeper Adam Davies was the catalyst for the shoot-out success, saving penalties from Conor McLaughlin and Amari’i Bell after a second 1-1 draw.
Kevin Long, Conor Hourihane, Sam Winnall and Adam Hammill slotted home for Barnsley as they sealed their Wembley final spot on Sunday, April 3.
Boss Johnson had made two changes to his starting line-up with fit-again pair Hammill and Aidy White replacing Ashley Fletcher and George Williams, and it was his side who opened brightest at a wet and gloomy Highbury Stadium.
Man-in-form and League One Player-of-the-Month nominee Winnall looked dangerous from the off, twice testing Fleetwood ‘keeper Chris Maxwell inside the opening eight minutes.
Wide-man Lloyd Isgrove was also looking extremely lively in the opening exchanges, and he tee’d up Marley Watkins for a shot which was well blocked.
There was a real moment of controversy in the 20th minute, with the Reds well on top by this time.
The returning Hammill played a beautiful through-ball perfectly into the path of Winnall, but as the Reds’ danger-man tried to dart into the box he was clearly dragged back by veteran centre-back Nathan Pond.
Referee Eddie Ilderton took a look, but waved the vociferous appeals away.
The visitors were rightly stunned for a short spell, and at the other end David Henen forced Davies into a smart save as his shot looked destined for the bottom corner.
Winnall responded by planting a header disappointingly wide from close range, while Davies came to the rescue again as the game really began to ebb and flow.
Jamille Matt pounced on a poor clearance from Alfie Mawson, only to then see a well-struck effort smothered bravely by the Reds’ stopper.
A Jamie Vardy-style strike almost put Barnsley into the lead as the game headed towards half-time.
Loan midfielder Josh Brownhill - who seems to get better with each game he plays - lashed in a superb half-volley from all of 30 yards that had ‘keeper Maxwell back-pedalling as he made an impressive save.
The Reds continue to enjoy the better of it in the run-up to the break, but they couldn’t find a breakthrough.
The visitors again looked confident in the early moments of the second period.
Conor Hourihane - looking so comfortable in possession again - worked some space expertly before drilling a shot narrowly over the top from just outside the Fleetwood box.
Minutes later Winnall let another chance pass him by, this time scooping a shot far too high as he met a precise cross from Watkins.
It was all Barnsley as the hour mark approached, and at that point Johnson’s battlers were denied by another breath-taking stop from Maxwell, who dived full length to palm away a curling shotfrom Hammill.
It was beginning to get to the stage when some of the noisy 1,300 Reds fans will have wondered whether their side would ever be rewarded for their clear dominance, but credit to the players, they kept plugging away.
Credit to the Reds, because they scored, at last, in the 68th minute. Hourihane broke the deadlock, latching on to Brownhill’s short pass before drilling home, via a slight deflection, into the far corner from 20 yards.
Now was the time for cool heads and composure as the final 20 minutes approached.
There was a minor scare for Barnsley when Fleetwood sub Ashley Hunter dragged a shot inches wide, then in the 77th minute there were fears that defender Kevin Long had suffered a bad injury.
However, he recovered, though not enough to prevent Hunter from levelling the tie again with just nine minutes left when he fired home low past Davies.
Reds’ sub Ashley Fletcher headed wide from point-blank range in stoppage-time, and so it was left to those dreaded penalties.
Fleetwood: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Pond, Davis, Bell, Nirennold, Jonsson, Grant, Matt (Hunter, 64), Haughton (Ball, 79), Henen (Forbes, 64). Subs not used: Gogic, Kiwomya.
Yellow cards: none
Barnsley: Davies, Bree, Long, Mawson, White (Scowen, 90), Isgrove (Fletcher, 85), Brownhill (Roberts, 90), Hourihane, Hammill, Watkins, Winnall. Subs not used: Townsend, Williams.
Yellow cards: Brownhill (42).
Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear).