Sixteen years on from our League One play-off final victory over Swansea City, we spoke with one of the heroes from that campaign, Daniel Nardiello, who was on target at the Millennium Stadium that afternoon.
The contest was eventually settled on penalties in the Welsh capital, with Barnsley registering all four successful spot-kicks, while the Swans saw Adebayo Akinfenwa clear the crossbar before Nick Colgan saved Alan Tate’s effort to spark wild scenes amongst Reds supporters
“I remember it really well – it’s one of the biggest high points of my career, personally,” recalled Nardiello. “The whole atmosphere and day out, the day before coming down and staying in the hotel; it’s something you’ll never forget.
“Obviously, we had a great following there on the day. Most people will say that they were the better team throughout the game, and we held on and won on penalties.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget, and my family will never forget; it was a fantastic occasion for players, staff and fans.”
Having taken an early lead through Paul Hayes, the Reds found themselves 2-1 down courtesy of goals from former striker Rory Fallon and Andy Robinson.
However, just after the hour mark, Nardiello curled a wonderful free-kick into Willy Guéret’s bottom corner, leaving the French goalkeeper rooted to the spot, levelling the scores and, eventually, forcing extra-time.
“I think I scored three free-kicks in my time at Barnsley,” he discussed. “We had some good free-kick takers while I was there, and Stephen McPhail was the main free-kick taker, but he took one in the previous game and didn’t score, and I really fancied that one in the final.
“They let me have it and, luckily for me, it crept in the bottom corner.
“A lot of people say it was a rubbish strike – and I can see their point in saying that – but the gap was there, and it was obvious to hit it there.
“Martin Devaney kind of shielded the ball from the goalkeeper and blocked his view, so it made it look really simple. So, I saw that bit of a gap and the goalkeeper was stood still, and by the time it had passed him it was too late.”
Nardiello also scored the goal that famously sent us to Cardiff as we overcame a first leg deficit at Huddersfield Town.
Trailing 1-0 heading to West Yorkshire, Hayes levelled the tie before Jon Worthington struck midway through the second half. But the Reds rallied again minutes later through Paul Reid and eventually secured a place in the final as Nardiello reacted quickest to slam home after Paul Rachubka fumbled Brian Howard’s fierce effort from distance.
“I scored a couple of important goals,” reflected our former striker. “In the last game against Walsall, I scored the winning penalty to secure the play-offs and then the winner against Huddersfield, which is one game I’ll never forget.
“I scored quite late on to win the game and the fans just went wild. It was a great atmosphere that night with it being a local derby, and then it was a decent time to score in the final as well.
“I’m very pleased to have scored those goals, but ultimately, it was just more important that we got the wins at the right time, and it was great to have that success with the changing room and staff. There was a great morale, and it’s something I’ll never forget because we all worked very hard to achieve promotion.”
It was a strange end to the campaign for Barnsley, who won just two of their final 12 fixtures – drawing eight – as they claimed a top six finish by three points ahead of Nottingham Forest.
However, Nardiello insists that he and his teammates weren’t thinking about their form heading into the play-offs and that confidence within the dressing room was a key factor in sealing promotion.
“Once you’re in the play-offs, you know you’ve got a chance and on any given day you can win a game,” he said. “Looking back at the squad we had, we had a fantastic squad from the goalkeeper all the way up to the front two.
“We had players who could play in multiple positions, so I did believe in our squad that we could go all the way and, luckily for us, we did really well against Huddersfield – especially coming from behind at their place; that was an unbelievable night of football.
“Then in the final, you still fancy your chances in a one-off game and, like I said with the players we had, I did have confidence, but it was always going to be tough. We were the least fancied out of the teams in it, but we proved everyone wrong.”