Bolton heading to Wembley despite second-leg defeat to Barnsley

Bolton secured their place in the League One play-off final despite being beaten by Barnsley at the Toughsheet Community Stadium as Ian Evatt’s men edged the Tykes 5-4 on aggregate.

Holding the upper hand after last Friday’s 3-1 semi-final first-leg win at Oakwell, Bolton had their lead cut in the 36th minute by Sam Cosgrove before hitting back with a fine Aaron Collins strike and an Eoin Toal header in quick succession just prior to the break.

Barnsley scored again through Adam Phillips in the 64th minute and Cosgrove then made it 3-2 on the night 12 minutes later to set up a tense finale, but the Trotters held out as they gained revenge over the side that beat them in last season’s play-off semis.

They will head to Wembley a week on Saturday to vie with either Oxford or Peterborough for a place in the Championship – the U’s are 1-0 up in the tie ahead of Wednesday’s second leg at the Weston Homes Stadium.

Bolton are seeking a return to the second tier having last been in the division in 2018-2019, and a second promotion under Evatt, who guided them out of League Two in 2021.

For Barnsley, missing out on the final completes a disappointing end to 2023-24 in which they failed to win any of their final six games of the regular season and sacked manager Neill Collins with one remaining, placing Martin Devaney in interim charge.

Collins was to the fore in the opening stages, seeing a low strike pushed away by Liam Roberts and then dispossessing Mael de Gevigney and slotting home in the ninth minute, only for referee Oliver Langford to disallow the effort, judging it had been a foul.

Barnsley had penalty appeals waved away when Cosgrove went down under a challenge from Bolton goalkeeper Nathan Baxter, before Roberts made a good diving save to turn behind another shot from Collins, who subsequently fired wide on the follow-up after Dion Charles’ strike was blocked.

The visitors, having shown little threat up to that point, registered an attempt with Josh Earl nodding wide from a 28th-minute corner – and then a goal as Cosgrove battled to meet John McAtee’s delivery and headed in from close range.

Their joy was short-lived, though, as Bolton responded with Collins sending a delightful strike from around 25 yards into the net in the 43rd minute, and Toal then heading home three minutes later from Gethin Jones’ tee-up to give Evatt’s side a three-goal advantage on aggregate.

After Luca Connell curled off-target for Barnsley early in the second half and Charles struck wide at the other end, the Yorkshire outfit pulled another goal back when Bolton skipper Ricardo Santos gave the ball away and it was worked from Cosgrove to Phillips, who hit a deflected shot past Baxter.

And nerves among the Bolton fans then increased even more when Conor Grant lofted the ball into the box and Cosgrove headed in his second.

De Gevigney subsequently put a shot wide and a late header onto the roof of the net as continued Barnsley pressure failed to yield another goal, before the final whistle prompted a pitch invasion from delirious Bolton supporters.


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