Wembley was the location, the Johnstones’ Paint Trophy final was the occasion. England’s national stadium welcomed supporters from Barnsley and Oxford United, creating a sea of red and yellow around the 90,000 seater stadium, and the atmosphere was electric as a result. Both teams, representatives of League One and League Two respectively, were looking to claim glory and add silverware to their collection.
It turned out to be a tightly contested fixture and both sides can be incredibly proud of their efforts throughout the tie. The League One outfit eventually prevailed to lift the trophy, however, and Barnsley’s impressive second half of the season continues with the 3-2 win. Oxford’s supporters will be gutted that their players were not celebrating a victory upon the final whistle, but they will be pleased with the application of the side.
With players from either side undoubtedly feeling the nerves, the first few moments of the tie saw a battle for possession ensue. Some fantastic end-to-end football was exciting spectators, but no real chances were carved open up either end. That was, however, until 10 minutes when Barnsley broke with speed to allow Sam Winnall space in behind. To Oxford’s relief, the striker could only miscue his effort with the outside of his foot after skilfully nutmegging Cheyenne Dunkley.
Despite Paul Heckingbottom’s men creating the first opening, it was United who looked the more threatening going forward. The much talked about Kemar Roofe was on the receiving end of a few strong challenges as he looked to probe into advanced areas. Barnsley looked comfortable in dealing with any real pressure though, and this meant that Adam Davies remained untroubled in the League One side’s goal.
The pace of the action soon slowed down, but it was Oxford that still looked more likely to score. Jordan Evans saw a distant free kick well saved by Davies on 19 minutes before the resulting corner caused a scramble in the area. Dunkley kept the ball alive with a magnificent piece of footwork but The Tykes eventually managed to clear the ball from danger.
With 26 minutes on the clock, Barnsley had a strike of their own thwarted after an encouraging spell. A superb delivery into the box initially evaded Winnall and Lloyd Isgrove, but Adam Hammill let fly from 30 yards just seconds later to force Buchel into a save. The next meaningful attack led to the opening goal of the affair, however, but it was The U’s that found the net. An in-swinging cross from Alex MacDonald found Callum O’Dowda and the Northern Ireland U21 international directed the ball into the far corner via his head.
After conceding, The Tykes were left searching for an equaliser and they squandered two opportunities in quick succession. With 35 minutes played, Winnall used great improvisation to volley just wide from the first effort before Hamill dragged a strike off target after surging forward menacingly. As The Reds continued to press Oxford’s back four were asked some questions, but Dunkley and Johnny Mullins were particulary impressive in the central positions as they quelled any danger.
With Barnsley trailing at the break, Heckingbottom would have been hoping that his key players could orchestrate a comeback in the second period. They had the first half chance on 47 minutes as Marc Roberts headed wide from a corner, but the sides looked evenly matched. The midfield battle resumed and the ability of Josh Ruffels and Liam Sercombe allowed The U’s to more than match their opponents in that area.
However, Hammill was given far too much space on 51 minutes to whip in an aerial ball that led to a leveller. The midfielder angled a delivery towards Winnall who timed his run perfectly to stay onside. Dunkley was then unfortunate to head past his own goalkeeper with the striker breathing down his neck, but Barnsley’s supporters couldn’t care as they burst into euphoric celebrations.
After clawing themselves back into the game, the side from South Yorkshire looked to take advantage as momentum began to swing their way. Oxford were also determined to get back in front though, and Roofe’s through ball to Danny Hylton almost paid off but Davies rushed off his goal line to steal the ball from the striker’s grasp. The match was turning into a real spectacle, and the relentless pace certainly provided a good advert for the Football League.
A period of relative tranquility soon followed but another key moment was to be had on 68 minutes as Barnsley took the lead. George Williams played a ball into the area to allow substitute Ivan Toney to get a shot away. His initial effort was well blocked but Ashley Fletcher was on hand to rifle the rebound home. Michael Appleton then almost witnessed his Oxford side even the scores immediately but Sercombe was denied by a fantastic reaction save from Davies.
In the 74th minute, a moment of magic led to The Tykes widening their lead further as they utilised space expertly. The ball was worked into Hammilll and he then cut inside before curling a wonderful strike into the far corner. Incredibly, United found the net themselves just seconds later to reduce the deficit and reignite their hope of success. Roofe dug out a perfectly placed cross and Hylton took advantage with an emphatic header that nestled into the top right corner.
With both embankments of supporters urging their players on, the players carried on tussling down on the pitch. Despite Oxford trailing, it was Barnsley who looked the livelier of the teams, however, and Hammill was denied a brace by a solid block on 83 minutes. The Tykes’ back line then naturally dropped deeper to preserve their lead, but Oxford threw bodies forward in an attempt to get back on level terms. The Reds did manage to hold on though, despite 6 minutes of additional time, and the players, staff and fans of Barnsley were given a moment to savour.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is a competition that is often frowned upon by a number of football fans. However, it gives the chance for the lower league clubs to grace the turf at the magnificent Wembley Stadium and that final was a credit to the game. Two very good sides locked horns and it was an enthralling encounter that provided bundles of entertainment.
I was thoroughly impressed with Oxford’s endeavour and when they took the lead, I thought it was going to be their day. However, credit has to be given to Barnsley as they really turned up the heat once faced with adversity. The goals they scored to win the game were sensational, and Adam Hammill’s strike was worthy of clinching any game of football.
Overall, Barnsley probably deserved to run out as winners when you look at their second half performance. Conor Hourihane was allowed to influence proceedings more and their midfield stepped up a gear to swing the tie their way. The quality The Tykes possess shone through eventually and their supporters will cherish this triumph.
Barnsley will now be focusing on their League One campaign and they could be enjoying another trip to Wembley should they cement a play-off spot. This win could provide them with extra motivation as any player relishes the opportunity to play in such a venue. Michael Appleton’s Oxford will also be determined to continue their success by sealing promotion to the third tier, and they currently lie in 2nd spot.
Barnsley: Davies, Williams, Roberts, Mawson, White, Isgrove (Scowen 77′), Brownhill, Hourihane, Hammill, Fletcher (Chapman 94′), Winnall (Toney 66′).
Unused Substitutes: Bree, Nyatanga, Townsend, Watkins.
Oxford United: Buchel, Kenny, Mullins, Dunkley, Evans, MacDonald (Maguire 66′), Ruffels, Sercombe, O’Dowda (Waring 85′), Roofe, Hylton (Bowery 80′).
Unused Substitutes: Slocombe, Wright, Long, Ashby.