Barnsley 0-1 Swansea: Andre Ayew’s sublime piece of individual brilliance separates the two sides as the Swans take one-goal lead back to south Wales in Championship play-off semi-final
- Andre Ayew’s goal five minutes before half-time won the first-leg for Swansea
- A terrific individual strike from Ayew into the far corner gives Swansea the edge
- The second-leg takes place at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday evening
- Barnsley could not find a breakthrough in front of their home fans on Monday
In the contest to discover which team will secure the final promotion place to the Premier League how fitting to see a moment of Premier League class.
Barnsley against Swansea was a game that romance attached, given the South Yorkshire team’s run from nowhere to the edge of the Promised Land, but the reality, for large parts, was this game, full of tension, was a difficult watch.
That was not the case, however, in the moments before half-time when Andre Ayew scored the goal that has put the men from south Wales in control of this particular semi-final – no wonder Steve Cooper was so happy on Saturday when reporting his striker from Ghana was fit for battle.
Andre Ayew scored the only goal of the game as Swansea beat Barnsley in the first-leg
The Ghanaian celebrates after his brilliant solo effort with Matt Grimes on Monday evening
The Swansea forward celebrates with team-mate Jamal Lowe five minutes before half-time
Barnsley fans returned but look on with agony on a frustrating Monday evening at Oakwell
Ayew’s dipping strike continued Swansea’s stranglehold in fixtures with Barnsley. They have not lost in 90 minutes against them since 1983 and the odds are most certainly stacked against Valerian Ismael’s men.
The last time a crowd was present in this atmospheric venue – on March 7, 2020 – Barnsley were beaten 2-0 at home by Cardiff and the hosts dropped to the bottom of the Championship.
The road they have followed in the time since has been lonely and made this reunion emotional.
You could hear the noise from those present rolling out of the stadium a full hour before kick-off; Ismael had suggested a crowd of 4,500 could make a noise comparable with 30,000 and that prediction was not far-fetched. The locals were ready for their shot at glory.
An early goal would have lit a fuse beneath them but Swansea were too canny to be drawn into an early-swinging match that would have left their chins exposed. Barnsley, who are a physical side and don’t duck the idea of going long, tried to overpower the visitors but they held firm.
Barnsley were limited to a couple of tame efforts at goal in the first period – a wayward shot from Romal Palmer on the edge of the area, a header from Michael Helik that was comfortably gathered by Freddie Woodman – and it always felt that Swansea had the extra edge in class.
Ayew’s dipping strike continued Swansea’s stranglehold in 90 minute games with Barnsley
Swansea managed to keep the hosts out in the second-half to hold the advantage in the semi
So it proved in the 39th minute. Swansea had pushed Barnsley back and when the ball arrived at Kyle Naughton’s feet, the right-back clipped a super ball into a channel for Ayew, who had peeled away from Helik.
Ayew only had one thing on his mind and, on the right side of the area, he adjusted his feet and whipped a beautiful left foot shot into the far corner, much to the noisy acclaim of the small group of directors and dignitaries who had travelled from South Wales.
There was some consternation on the Barnsley bench and remonstrations over whether Ayew had strayed offside to collect the pass but, without VAR, the protests were futile. Swansea had seized control of the contest and visibly began to grow in confidence.
The break, though, came at a good time for Barnsley and they emerged re-energised. There was nothing wrong with the way they started the second period and Callum Brittain really ought to have put them level in the 49thminute but Woodman smothered his shot from six yards.
Barnsley’s Carlton Morris strikes at goal on a tough evening for Valerien Ismael’s hosts
Ismael screams with anger and will have to revitalise his team ahead of Saturday’s second-leg
It was a gilt-edged opportunity, coming after substitute Carlton Morris had been foiled, but it had the effect of rousing Barnsley’s players and fans. Suddenly red shirts began swarming forward and Woodman was needed again shortly after, blocking Cauley Woodrow’s free-kick.
Cooper began to fidget as his team could not get control of the contest but so, too, did Ismael, who was impatient for Barnsley to create chances. This high state of emotion is exactly what you associate with the play-offs, the frayed nerves and quick tempers.
But Barnsley could not keep the tempo up and Ismael breathed a sigh of relief late on when Jamal Lowe missed a chance to put the game beyond doubt.
They live to fight another day but, to make their dreams come true, they will need to show much more on Saturday.