Swansea City were 1-0 winners at Oakwell this evening, with Andre Ayew’s first-half goal enough to settle the first leg of their play-off semi-final with Barnsley.
Valerien Ismael’s side were backed by ferocious support as fans streamed back into Oakwell for the first time in 436 days, but Ayew’s moment of class on 39 minutes secured a vital advantage for Steve Cooper’s Swans.
— AGB (@BurnsAlfie) May 17, 2021
There have been few bigger nights at Oakwell over the last 20 years, with Barnsley looking to crash back into the Premier League after a 23 year absence.
The timing, then, couldn’t have been better as Ismael’s side welcomed back 4,500 noisy supporters, making themselves heard over an hour before kick-off.
It’s been a memorable season for Barnsley, so to welcome back a section of fans for a game of this magnitude was a huge positive. Those on the terrace were there to play their part.
Marc Guehi and Jamal Lowe did well to stop a quick break from Callum Brittain and Dominik Frieser. Further encouragement for them, too, when Romal Palmer trapped a loose ball and zipped a shot over Freddie Woodman’s crossbar from the edge of the penalty area.
Daryl Dike – playing in front of these adoring Barnsley supporters for the first time – clenched fists and encouraged Oakwell to make even more noise. Matt Grimes, meanwhile, looked to add composure to Swansea’s play, booming passes out to Jamal Lowe at every opportunity.
Chances were few and far between in the opening 20 minutes, but the game was feeding off the atmosphere and going along at a frantic pace; exactly what the play-offs are all about.
Just after the half-hour, Callum Styles battled hard to beat Ayew on the left before linking with Cauley Woodrow to free Frieser. The forward’s cross was good, but slightly ahead of Dike and eventually smothered by Woodman.
Styles’ work was then in defence as he tussled with Ayew to keep the Swansea attacker well away from a cross, as Cooper’s side launched a rare forage into Barnsley territory.
That should have served Barnsley a warning, but didn’t, with Swansea grappling the advantage on 39 minutes.
Ayew drifted into space out on the right, isolating Michal Helik in an uncomfortable position. The Swansea forward’s skill to shift the ball onto his left foot opened up a shooting opportunity, which he buried beyond Brad Collins with a curling effort.
Guehi fought at the other end of the pitch, clearing anything Barnsley dare put near the Swansea goal heading into half time. There was then a half-chance for redemption for Helik, but his header was tame and straight into Woodman’s arms.
Oakwell not exactly silenced at the break, but with an unwelcome task on their big night.
The response after the interval was bright from Barnsley, with Brittain unlucky to not keep Palmer’s pass in play after breaking beyond Jake Bidwell. Ismael also shuffled his pack, introducing Carlton Morris for Frieser.
Morris’ first impact was to drive at the Swansea defence, forcing a low save from Woodman, who then superbly denied Brittain on the rebound. The momentum was with the home side, with Oakwell a cauldron of noise not for the first time this evening.
Alex Mowatt’s speculative volley was deflected wide and Dike’s header from a Cauley Woodrow corner was directed harmlessly away from goal. Woodman would then prevent Woodrow’s free kick nestling in the bottom corner after another positive piece of play from Morris drew a foul from Ayew.
A similar pattern had developed in the previous half, albeit without the sea of Barnsley chances. There was almost another Swansea sucker punch, though, with Conor Hourihane’s free kick needing to be clawed away from under Collins’ crossbar.
After taking the sting out of Barnsley’s early flurry after the break, Swansea were now causing a few more problems. Lowe turned Toby Sibbick in knots before curling a shot agonisingly over; so close that the Swans bench thought it was destined for the top corner.
The game was stretched heading into the final 25 minutes, which was mirrored in Kyle Naughton’s lunging challenge on Woodrow. Geoff Eltringham deemed Cooper’s right-back to have enough of the ball to wave away strong calls for a penalty from the terrace.
Similarly, Wayne Routledge saw appeals for a penalty turned away after a coming together with Mads Andersen. Ayew was the man leading inquest, directing frustration at Eltringham and fourth official, David Webb.
Ditching the complaints, Ayew then led another Swansea counter, which eventually resulted in Hourihane laying the ball into Grimes’ feet, with the skipper’s fierce shot awkwardly beaten away by Collins.
Barnsley applied late pressure, winning a flurry of corners, one of which was flicked onto the top of the crossbar by Morris’ audacious effort.
There was to be no fairytale equaliser for the magnificent Barnsley supporters, but Ismael’s side remain in a finely poised tie heading to Swansea on Saturday evening.
They will, though, need someone producing what Ayew could tonight: cool and calm to put Swansea in the driving seat.
FT: Barnsley 0-1 Swansea City.