Barnsley beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final second leg to secure a 2-1 aggregate victory and progress to the final on Monday 29 May.
Liam Kitching’s first half header was all that separated the two sides in an entertaining affair that had everything you expect from a fixture with so much riding on it: adrenaline, nerves, and wild celebrations.
In a typically frenetic opening exchange, it was the Reds who set the early tempo as Adam Phillips cut out a loose pass and tried to tee up Slobodan Tedić, but our Serbian striker was narrowly beaten to the ball as he aimed to make contact.
Roared on by three sides of a raucous Oakwell, Luca Connell, Liam Kitching and Herbie Kane all tried their luck from distance, only to see James Trafford in the visiting goal make routine saves down to his left.
Midway through the half, we eventually made the breakthrough and got the goal that our attacking play merited. Phillips fired a wonderful cross-field pass to Connell, who in turn swung a cross from deep into the box that a towering Kitching headed into the far top corner.
It was greeted by an explosion of noise as Oakwell erupted, with Barnsley putting themselves ahead on the night and in the tie.
Bolton looked to respond and floated a few dangerous set-pieces into the box that the Reds dealt with comfortably, although there was a slight scare when both Ricardo Santos and George Johnston had a swipe at a bobbling ball in a goalmouth scramble.
HALF-TIME: Barnsley 1-0 Bolton Wanderers
The visitors came out with renewed vigour after the restart and began to pepper our goal, with Mads Andersen and Bobby Thomas making crucial blocks as we struggled to get out of our own defensive third.
Having soaked up that pressure, the Reds came agonisingly close to a second when Bobby Thomas’ long throw was clearled only as far as Phillips, whose superb strike from the edge of the area clipped the top of the crossbar.
Bolton had a great opportunity with quarter of an hour remaining in the form of an indirect free-kick from inside the box after Barnsley were penalised for a back pass. Fortunately, though, Aaron Morley’s thunderous drive whizzed inches over the bar.
“Come on, you Reds!” rang out around Oakwell as six minutes of added time were indicated, and the home faithful played their part in getting the team over the line and to Wembley at the end of the month.
The full-time whistle blew, and our hard work was finally rewarded with a showpiece finale against Sheffield Wednesday for a place in the Championship.
FULL-TIME: Barnsley 1-0 Bolton Wanderers (Barnsley win 2-1 on aggregate)
REDS XI: Isted (GK), Williams, B Thomas, Andersen (C), Kitching, Cadden, Phillips (J Benson, 85), Connell (Russell, 84), Kane, Tedić (Norwood, 65), Cole (L Thomas, 87).
Not used: Collins (GK), Cotter, Watters.
BOLTON XI: Trafford (GK), Santos (C), Johnston, Charles, Nlundulu (Adeboyejo, 67), Morley (Jerome, 85), Toal, Bradley, Dempsey, Thomason (Kachunga, 67), R Williams.
Not used: Dixon (GK), John, MJ Williams, Sheehan.