MATCH REPORT: Wanderers reach Wembley after a nail-biter against Barnsley

by 24britishtvMay 7, 2024, 11 p.m. 26
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Ian Evatt’s men are now 90 minutes away from the Championship but, of course, they didn’t do it the easy way.

Coasting at 2-1 at half time, 5-2 on aggregate, there seemed little chance of a Tykes revival.

Aaron Collins and Eoin Toal had cancelled out Sam Cosgrove’s opener, and things looked to be going the Whites’ way once again. But the second 45 minutes proved an exercise in torture for the long-suffering Bolton fans who had been nothing short of magnificent from beginning to end.

Cosgrove scored again, Adam Phillips put Barnsley back to within a goal. The final moments were as tense as anything this stadium has seen before.

But the joyous scenes at the final whistle showed exactly what this means to a club now not only on the mend, but nearly back to full health.

Unsurprisingly, Wanderers stayed with the same starting 11 that started the first leg, whereas Barnsley brought Sam Cosgrove back into the starting line-up for their leading goal-scorer Devante Cole.

Much has been said and written about the former Wigan Athletic striker’s history with Bolton, and Toal in particular, but there is little doubt that he is an awkward customer and it came as little surprise that he was the one who got the nerves jangling 36 minutes in.

Wanderers had been the better side to that point, Collins had seen one goal ruled out after Mael de Gevigney got himself in a real mess facing his own goal, losing the ball to the Welshman who rolled a shot past Liam Roberts. Referee Oliver Langford felt there had been a foul.

Cosgrove had a penalty shout turned down when he went sprawling in the corner of the penalty box, Nathan Baxter having charged out to the extremity of his area to push the ball to safety. Again, ref Langford was unmoved.

Barnsley had little answer to Collins’ movement and 17 minutes in it took a full-length save from Roberts to push away a goal-bound effort after he had cut in past Corey O’Keefe.

De Gevigney then made a risky challenge on Collins close to goal which brought another vocal penalty appeal from the home crowd. Say what you want about referee Langford, he was not about to let himself be swayed by the noise.

Wanderers were asking most of the questions but Barnsley’s need was great, and as the away end finally filled to the brim, those fans who had been stuck on the motorway arrived just in time to see their hopes briefly flicker into life.

After struggling to clear a long throw, Bolton were pinned in, and a magnificent chipped cross from John McAtee gave Cosgrove the chance to bulldoze two defenders and force the ball into the net, sparking scenes of Yorkshire joy.

The few minutes after that felt the most nervous of the night. Santos took a poor touch, a couple of passes went astray. Resolve was tested.

But then a moment of pure class from Collins, which showed exactly why the club pushed the boat out in January to bring him in. Cutting in from the left a couple of strides he crashed a right footed shot into the bottom corner to beat Roberts, and the tension was released.

Celebrations had hardly calmed when Collins found himself through on goal again, this time fed by an excellent pass from Charles. He got around Roberts but couldn’t shoot first time, eventually denied by a brave block from Jordan Williams at the foot of the post.

Wanderers were not done yet. From the corner Toal rose above everyone to power home a header and set the stadium buzzing with electricity yet again.

Close your eyes and it could just as easily have been El-Hadji Diouf scoring against Atletico Madrid. Call it the Reebok, the Macron, the UniBol or the Toughsheet, on a night like this there is nothing comparable.

Would Barnsley manage to raise their game again in the second half? Well, nobody told Luca Connell the match was dead. The former Bolton youngster remains a credit to the academy and a player who should definitely be operating at a higher level.

It was the 23-year-old who fizzed a shot just wide of Baxter’s post a few minutes after the restart to remind Wanderers that despite the party atmosphere, there was still work to be done.

Thomason might well have killed the contest, bursting through just before the hour he unselfishly looked for a reverse pass to Charles, who drove his shot just wide.

Over-confidence felt just as dangerous at that point – and that might just have crept in for Santos as he took a poor touch just outside his own penalty box with 25 minutes to go, the ball eventually worked through Cosgrove and substitute Cole to Adam Phillips, whose shot then bounced off the Whites captain and past Baxter into the net.

Just as in the first leg, the lapse in concentration put a slight question mark over what should have been a foregone conclusion.

With 15 minutes left and with Kyle Dempsey waiting to come on, Wanderers went behind on the night. Maghoma had only moments earlier been bearing down on goal with two team-mates for company but lost control, Barnsley switched play and sub Conor Grant came up with a sumptuous cross for Cosgrove to head his second.

Another heart-in-mouth moment followed as O’Keefe arrowed a dangerous free kick right across the box, Cosgrove threw himself at it and De Gevigney couldn’t steer his shot on target.

With nine minutes left Cole out-paced Sheehan on the left and swung another dangerous ball in – this time Cosgrove couldn’t bring it under his spell. At this stage the seconds ticking down on each of the big screens started to slow to a crawl.

Five minutes of added time was met with a guttural roar. If the players needed an extra shot of energy for their last task of the night, there it was.

Could Barnsley go again? I think we all knew the answer.

Williams somehow found space to drive a shot at goal which looped off a Bolton leg and dropped inches wide of the post.

Grown men and women just couldn’t look.

As the minutes finally became seconds, a clearing header from Santos was celebrated like a goal, as was a throw in won by the old campaigner, Cameron Jerome, now off the bench.

And then, the whistle. Que sera, sera, we really are going to Wembley.

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