Barnsley heading back to Wembley in League One play-off final
Barnsley will return to Wembley for the second time this season to contest the Sky Bet League One play-off final after overcoming Walsall 6-1 on aggregate.
The Tykes, Johnstone’s Paint Trophy winners at the national stadium just last month, had a comfortable 3-0 lead from the first leg in Yorkshire on Saturday but they did not rest on their laurels at the Banks’s Stadium and had chances to extend their overall advantage before Adam Hammill did so after 18 minutes.
The chances continued to come for the visitors, with the superb Conor Hourihane Walsall’s chief tormentor, but they had to wait until the 66th minute before Ashley Fletcher extended their lead.
Substitute Jordan Cook’s superb long-range goal five minutes from time was a strike deserving of more than mere consolation but the scoring was not finished as Josh Brownhill netted late on to make it 3-1 on the night – a repeat of Barnsley’s win at Walsall in the league in March.
The Tykes will be back at Wembley on May 29 where they will bid to become the first team since Grimsby in 1998 to win the Football League Trophy and clinch promotion via the play-offs. They will face either Yorkshire rivals Bradford or Millwall, who resume their semi-final tie at The Den on Friday night with the Lions 3-1 ahead.
Walsall survived an almighty scare in the eighth minute when an unmarked Alfie Mawson mistimed his header inside the six-yard box following a Hourihane corner.
The Saddlers went close as Andy Taylor narrowly missed the top corner with a free-kick on the edge of the box before another superb delivery into the penalty area from Hourihane fell to Hammill’s feet and the winger kept his cool to slot the ball past goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
It all but settled the tie but Barnsley looked to turn the screw regardless and Hourihane almost forced James O’Connor to put the ball into his own net but Etheridge reacted quickly to block.
Another Hourihane cross from the right found Sam Winnall at the far post but Etheridge denied him at point-blank range.
Walsall were really riding their luck but came into the game a little more either side of the half-hour mark. Tom Bradshaw scuffed his shot wide and then Jordy Hiwula directed Rico Henry’s driven cross just wide.
And when the Saddlers did register an effort on target they found Adam Davies on top form as he dived at full stretch to his right to push away Bradshaw’s header. Back at the other end, Etheridge twice had to deny Fletcher before half-time.
Walsall began the second half brightly but came within a whisker of falling further behind when Paul Downing poked the ball inches wide of his own net.
Davies produced another fine save to push away Adam Chambers’ 20-yard strike on the hour before goalscorer Hammill turned creator with a cross which Fletcher controlled inside the penalty area before firing the ball home.
Davies was finally beaten by Cook’s inch-perfect curler into the top corner of the net before a defensive mix-up in the final minute allowed Lloyd Isgrove to set up Brownhill to smash home Barnsley’s third goal of the night.