Sam Winnall brace puts Barnsley on brink of Wembley
Sam Winnall’s double helped keep Barnsley on course for a return trip to Wembley as a 3-0 first-leg win against Walsall gave them a big advantage in their Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final.
Barnsley lifted the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in the capital at the start of April and are big favourites to head back there on May 28 after Jason Demetriou’s first-half own goal and two from Winnall in the second period left Walsall with it all to do.
Both sides were unchanged from the last day of the regular season when Barnsley won 4-1 at champions Wigan to secure the final play-off place and Walsall missed out on automatic promotion by a single point, despite beating Port Vale 5-0.
Barnsley’s Lloyd Isgrove had the game’s first chance after a cagey opening when his thumping 14th-minute drive from outside the penalty area was tipped over by Walsall goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
Walsall striker Tom Bradshaw fired straight at Barnsley keeper Adam Davies at the other end soon after as a high-tempo first half gathered momentum.
Barnsley dangerman Adam Hammill then clipped a fine ball into the penalty area for Isgrove to steer home in the 22nd minute, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside. Television replays showed this was clearly the wrong decision with Adam O’Connor playing the midfielder onside.
Walsall full-back Demteriou’s low effort was gathered by Davies after a lung-busting run into the area before Bradshaw spurned a golden chance from former Barnsley winger Milan Lalkovic’s low cross and the visitors were made to pay on the stroke of half-time.
Winnall burst into the box and pulled the ball back for Adam Hammill, whose right-footed shot was heading wide until a significant deflection off Demetriou.
Linesman Mark Duncan, whose flag had ruled out Isgrove’s first-half effort, was spared further abuse from home fans after being replaced at the interval by fourth official Jeremy Simpson due to a calf injury.
Simpson was soon in action down his line as Barnsley tore forward after the restart. Isgrove wasted a clear chance when opting to shoot straight at Etheridge, who was outnumbered three to one but two goals inside a minute saw the home side seize control of the tie.
Winnall let fly from 25 yards in the 54th minute and his shot deflected off James O’Connor before nestling in the top corner.
Less than 60 seconds later the former Wolves trainee took his tally for the season to 24, taking Josh Brownhill’s fine pass in his stride and sliding the ball home from eight yards.
Walsall, all at sea, gathered themselves and chased a way back into the tie, but were left to rue Anthony Forde’s low cross-shot, which flew inches wide, and substitute Sam Mantom’s glaring miss.