Bolton edge past Barnsley in nerve-shredding tie to reach Wembley

Bolton reached the Sky Bet League One play-off final as they edged past Barnsley 5-4 on aggregate.

Leading 3-1 from the first leg of their semi-final, Bolton were determined to get the job done and overcome the side that knocked them out at this same stage last season, and they just about saw it through despite losing 3-2 in the second leg.

There were some nerves as Sam Cosgrove nodded Barnsley back into the tie, but goals from Aaron Collins and Eoin Toal before half-time seemingly took the game beyond the Tykes.

Barnsley then set up a grandstand finish thanks to goals from Adam Phillips and a Cosgrove second, but Bolton saw it out to reach Wembley.

Barnsley win second leg at the Toughsheet, but Bolton do just enough

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Aaron Collins scored a stunner to make it 1-1 on the night

Barnsley had it all to do at the Toughsheet to try and get to the final just as they did last year, and it looked promising on 36 minutes as John McAtee smartly crossed for Cosgrove to head in.

But by half-time, Bolton had turned it around, as Collins whipped a fine shot in from 25 yards, before Toal nodded in from close range from a corner to complete the turnaround on the night.

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Eoin Toal gave Bolton a 2-1 lead

Barnsley were handed a lifeline as a Ricardo Santos error allowed them to sweep forward and find Phillips, who then saw his striker deflect off the Trotters’ captain and in. Cosgrove scored a second to give the Tykes hope, but it wasn’t to be, as Bolton crawled over the line.

Bolton will now face Peterborough or Oxford in the final at Wembley for a place in the Championship, with the second leg of that tie taking place on Wednesday night – live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm; kick-off 8pm.

Evatt: It was nail-biting! And it didn’t have to be

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Ian Evatt says he needs ‘a sit down’ after ‘unenjoyable’ play-off semi-final win against Barnsley

Bolton manager Ian Evatt:

“That was unenjoyable! Credit to Barnsley, they were excellent and showed great character and desire. For us it’s another learning curve. We’re ahead in the game and a simple error gives them momentum again. We didn’t react well to that goal, and then they had opportunities.

“It was nail-biting, and it didn’t need to be that way. But we have to enjoy it and we’ve done enough over the two games to be there. Now, we’re one game away from our target. And in the next day or two get set for what is going to be a big week in preparation.”

Devaney: It showed how much we care

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Martin Devaney says he’s so proud of his players in Barnsley’s semi-final defeat to Bolton. He also reveals that he doesn’t want the vacant managerial job.

Barnsley interim manager Martin Devaney:

“I’m so proud of the lads in how we performed tonight. In the first half and obviously coming in at 2-1 down we spoke about character, believing in ourselves and sticking to the game plan. The boys executed it so I’m really proud of them.

“For myself, I care about this football club and I know what it means to the fans. So hopefully after that performance, the players have shown how much we care.”

‘It was nervy, but Bolton got job done’

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Jobi Mcanuff questions Bolton player celebrations after semi-final win against Barnsley.

Sky Sports’ Jobi McAnuff on Sky Sports Football:

“It was a lot more nervy than Ian Evatt would have wanted after getting into such a comfortable position. He would have wanted them to control the game a lot better in that second half, but they weren’t able to do that. For that, you have to give Barnsley credit. They threw everything at it.

“But the play-offs are just about getting results, it doesn’t matter how you do it. The objective is to get through these two semi-finals, and they have done that just about in the end. Now they’ll be looking forward to an amazing day at Wembley.”

‘Tough for Barnsley, but Bolton deserved it’

Wycombe defender Joe Jacobson on Sky Sports Football:

“It’s going to be so tough for Barnsley, because they gave so much over two legs. A few little mistakes they are going to look back on for the goals they conceded. A couple of set pieces where they could have reacted better.

“They were pretty much down and out at half-time, so to come back and do what they did was an amazing performance, and they even had half-chances to level. It was an incredible effort from Barnsley.

“But Bolton came out and imposed themselves on the game. And from that performance they deserved it.”

What’s next?

Bolton advance to the Sky Bet League One play-off final, where they will face either Peterborough or Oxford at Wembley on Saturday May 18.

Barnsley will remain in the third tier for the 2024/25 campaign.

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