Tri Motrat 46 (Pamje)
Barnsley edged a tight League One play-off semi-final second leg against Bolton to set up an all-South Yorkshire final against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley.
With the scores level at 1-1 from the first leg on Saturday, Liam Kitching’s towering back-post header from Luca Connell’s arcing cross was the difference.
Bolton enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but struggled to put the home goal under any real pressure.
The Tykes will now face their local rivals on Monday, 29 May as they look to secure an immediate return to the Championship.
Unlike Thursday’s wild second leg at Hillsborough, that saw Wednesday produce a stunning comeback to eventually beat Peterborough 5-3 on penalties, this was a game high in intensity but low on serious chances.
Bolton’s best opportunity to level came when Aaron Morley crashed a fierce strike over the bar after an indirect free-kick was rolled to him inside the area.
Ian Evatt’s men – who lifted the Papa Johns Trophy last month – will now face a third successive season in the third tier, with the final to be played between the sides that finished third and fourth in the table.It has been an epic season for the Tykes, who suffered an embarrassing relegation from the Championship last season.
Just one year after playing in the second tier play-offs the Reds finished bottom of the table with 30 points, four points adrift of a Derby side who had been deducted 21 points.
Michael Duff was appointed in June after a successful stint with Cheltenham and he immediately set about turning the club’s fortunes around.
They spent 205 days in the top six, the fifth most in the division, and went on a run of nine successive home wins to briefly put themselves in automatic promotion contention.
Defeat by Ipswich at the end of April extinguished that and they ended the season with just one point from their final three games as boss Duff turned his focus to the post-season.
He has been justly rewarded with two highly efficient displays from his well-organised and punchy team.
Fans ended the game chanting “Sheffield Wednesday, we’re coming for you” – with Owls boss Darren Moore watching in the stands – and the local rivals will now battle it out for promotion, exactly one week shy of a year since some of the Barnsley squad came back in for pre-season.
Barnsley had only won one of their past 17 meetings with Bolton before the second leg
Wanderers come up short
As in Saturday’s first leg in Lancashire, Bolton dominated possession.
However, they struggled to put the home side under any sustained pressure and the Reds could have won more comfortably, as Adam Phillips’ well hit volley clipped the bar and Jordan Williams smashed a shot wide in the last seconds.
Barnsley boss Duff had said in the week that the game would come down to “big moments” and so it proved.
The away side easily dealt with Connell’s initial free-kick into the middle but did not get any pressure on the ball, and it was recycled back to the former Wanderers man in acres of space on the left – he sent an excellent ball to the back post for Kitching to crash home.
Kitching and the rest of the Barnsley defence were then wonderfully well-organised to see the result over the line in surprising comfort.
Evatt will be disappointed at how his side, who had won 3-0 at Oakwell in the league in January, failed to match their opponents’ intensity and make away goalkeeper Harry Isted work.
Star Liverpool loanee Conor Bradley, who was well shackled in both legs, will now return to his parent club and the Trotters will look to rebuild over the summer to have another go at promotion next season.
Barnsley boss Michael Duff told BBC Radio Sheffield:
“We were excellent. We showed everything that we are: young, energetic, on the front foot, with a good shape and really organised. When we saw a negative pass, we went after it together.
“We scored a good goal. We knew we would have to suffer but we limited them to not a lot. I couldn’t be more proud. The noise, the atmosphere and the smiles on people’s faces is 10-and-a-half months of hard work – not just by myself and the players, but off the pitch as well.
“There’s no day out at Wembley. We’re in it to win it. Sheffield Wednesday will be favourites but we can hurt them.”
Bolton manager Ian Evatt told BBC Radio Manchester:
“The biggest disappointment for me was the outcome. We controlled the game tonight. We started the better team. We had the ball, we quietened their crowd and the goal came out of the blue.
“It’s definitely not a foul [for the goal], then the second phase of the set-play we concede from and that rocked us a bit.
“It took us a while to find our stride again and that came in the second half. We had control, we were dominating the ball but we lacked a cutting edge.
“That’s the story of the season. If you look at our defensive record, it’s up there with Ipswich. That should have seen