Barnsley completed a fairytale season at Wembley Stadium by earning promotion to the Sky Bet Championship with a 3-1 Play-Off Final victory over Millwall.The Tykes propped up the League 1 table as recently as December, but sealed a return to the second tier – a division they were relegated from in 2013/14 – thanks to goals from Ashley Fletcher, Adam Hammill, and Lloyd Isgrove, just eight weeks after Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success under the arch.
Fletcher and Hammill were on target on that day in early April when they saw off Oxford United, and they were at it again when the Lions stood in their way of promotion.
But it was the blue half of Wembley who were almost celebrating with only 30 seconds on the clock, when Mark Beevers headed a Chris Taylor free-kick inches wide.
Centre-back Beevers would get his moment in front of goal, but only after Fletcher and Hammill had given Paul Heckingbottom’s side a two-goal lead.
First, it was Manchester United loanee Fletcher in the third minute. He collected the ball from a flick-on, somewhat fortuitously got the better of Carlos Edwards, and coolly slotted past goalkeeper Jordan Archer.
Then, it was Man of the Match Hammill. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, nothing looked on; but this is a player full of confidence. He drove at the Millwall back line down the left before cutting inside and letting fly from 25 yards with the ball sailing into the top corner.
Dream land for Barnsley – well, that’s how it seemed.
Millwall weren’t going to be pushed over on the big stage, however. Neil Harris has built a squad with character and they showed just that when they got it back to 2-1 just after the half-hour to spark the blue half of Wembley into life.
Shane Ferguson swung a corner in which was flicked on by Steve Morison; top scorer Lee Gregory failed to connect – not something often said this season – but Beevers was on hand to turn and fire home when the ball fell loose after a swing and a miss from Tony Craig.
Barnsley saw plenty of the ball as the second half started in a slightly tepid fashion but, like in the opening 45 minutes, Millwall had the first sight of goal.
After Jimmy Abdou won a game of head tennis in the middle third of the Tykes’ half, Reds defender Josh Scowen fluffed his clearance but Gregory failed to capitalise and the ball ran through to goalkeeper Davies.
At the other end, Hammill found space again on the edge of the box but failed to deliver an end product as he had so delightfully in the first half.
Barnsley stopper Davies was called into action again shortly after as Neil Harris’ side opted for a more direct approach past the hour mark. Morison broke clear and took it round the ‘keeper in a wide position but Aiden O’Brien could only find the palms of the recovering Davies after the Lions talisman had clipped the ball back into the box.
That moment seemed to kick Barnsley back into life and Isgrove, who had been pivotal in the two semi-final victories over Walsall, got himself on the scoresheet. Conor Hourihane swung a corner in and the pint-sized winger – on loan from Southampton – managed to nip in front of Archer and head home.
The Lions kept at it and had a golden chance on 85 minutes when Davies denied Taylor in a one-on-one, but this was Barnsley’s day – the fairytale was complete.
From the bottom of Sky Bet League 1 to a place in the Sky Bet Championship, alongside League Trophy success, all in the space of six months.
Barnsley: Davies (GK), Williams, Roberts, Mawson, Scowen, Isgrove (Watkins 84), Hammill, Hourihane (capt), Fletcher (Toney 81), Brownhill, Winnall.
Substitutes not used: Townsend, Chapman, Nyatanga, McCourt, White.
Millwall: Archer (GK), Martin (O’Brien 43), Edwards (Williams 82), Gregory, Beevers, Craig (capt), Ferguson, Taylor, Morison, Thompson (Onyedinma 76), Abdou.
Substitutes not used: Forde, Philpot, Upson, Nelson.
Referee: Stuart Attwell