Reds 3 (Demetriou o.g. 45, Winnall 54, 56)
Barnsley will take a healthy lead to the Banks’s Stadium on Thursday after comprehensively beating Walsall 3-0 in the first leg of the League One Play-off semi-final at Oakwell.
Lloyd Isgrove’s effort was incorrectly ruled offside midway through the half but Adam Hammill’s deflected strike off Jason Demetriou ensured the Reds went in ahead at the break.
Two goals in a matter of minutes helped put the tie beyond the reach of the Saddlers, lashing home via the help of a deflection nine minutes into the second half, quickly following it up with a composed finish across the keeper.
Sam Mantom fired over from a tight angle 15 minutes from time as Paul Heckingbottom's side edged closer to a second appearance at Wembley this season.
The first chance of note came five minutes in as Lloyd Isgrove’s teasing cross was just too high for Sam Winnall to connect with as the cross drifted away.
Isgrove, in search of his first Reds goal of the season, stung the fingertips of Neil Etheridge 16 minutes in with a rasping 25-yard drive and Alfie Mawson headed at the stopper from Hammill’s ball in.
Walsall countered immediately with Welsh forward Tom Bradshaw firing straight at Davies from just inside the area before Mawson headed a Marc Roberts long throw wide.
After 21 minutes, Hammill’s inch-perfect ball was volleyed home by Isgrove, but the offside flag meant his celebrations were premature, although replays suggested the Welsh international was on.
Anthony Frode’s delightful free kick just before the half hour was sublimely turned away by Adam Davies before a deflected Josh Scowen effort brought Etheridge back into the game.
Jason Demetriou’s low effort proved a comfortable take for Davies just past the half hour and another Mawson header from Roberts’ long throw tested Etheridge further.
Bradshaw slipped the ball just wide of the mark five minutes before the break after former Red Milan Lalkovic had escaped from marker Scowen.
The Reds got their just rewards on the stroke of half time as Winnall’s tireless running saw him create enough space for a pullback.
It was missed by all in white and fell perfectly for Hammill to sweep home, sending the Reds in 1-0 up at the break.
After surviving an early second half scare, Isgrove chased Fletcher’s superb pass to give the Reds a four-on-one situation with barely four minutes of the second half played.
The winger’s piledriver was well saved by Etheridge but the Reds did not have to wait too long for a second goal.
Fletcher released Winnall on 54 minutes, who raced forward and fired an unstoppable effort beyond Etheridge, again via the help of a healthy deflection.
And the striker was in dreamland less than a minute later, grabbing his second of the afternoon and sending Oakwell wild.
The striker chased a ball down the left-hand side, brushed off the challenges of three Saddlers defenders and stroked low across Philippines stopper Etheridge and into the corner of the goal.
Winnall was replaced by Ivan Toney after 67 minutes, leaving the field to a standing ovation from all corners of Oakwell.
Walsall began to press for a goal, coming close when Forde’s drilled ball across the area was inches away from finding the sliding Jordy Hiwula before Mantom skied the ball from a tight angle 15 minutes from time.
Substitute Harry Chapman went down injured in the final minute of the game but returned to the field of play to see out the final few moments.
For the 16,051 fans inside Oakwell, the result gives the Reds a strong cushion ahead of Thursday’s visit to the Midlands.
Reds: Davies, Scowen, Mawson, Roberts, G. Williams, Isgrove (Chapman, 84’ ), Brownhill, Hourihane, Hammill, Winnall (Toney, 67’ ), Fletcher (A. White, 77’ ).
Subs: Townsend, McCourt, Tuton, Cowgill.
Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Henry, Chambers, Lalkovic (Cook, Sawyers, Morris (Mantom, 60’ ), Forde, Sawyers (Hiwula, 71’ ).
Subs: Macgillvary, Taylor, Preston, Osbourne.
Attendance: 16,051 (2,093 Walsall)