Dion Charles denied Barnsley a vital first-leg advantage with a second-half equaliser to earn Bolton a 1-1 draw in their Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final.
The Northern Ireland international scored his 21st league goal just four minutes after Nicky Cadden threatened to put Barnsley in the driving seat for Friday’s return at Oakwell.
The eventual winners will meet Sheffield Wednesday or Peterborough at Wembley for the right to join Plymouth and Ipswich in the Championship next season.
Unlike Posh’s 4-0 hammering of the Owls, this second semi-final – played in front of a crowd of 23,450 – was far cagier.
Barnsley finished one place and five points in front of their hosts after the regular season. But Wanderers enjoyed a more profitable end to the campaign and showed their resilience after falling behind.
The return of captain Mads Andersen after a two-game injury absence boosted Barnsley in this fourth and penultimate meeting between the teams this season.
The corresponding home league fixture ended in a sterile 0-0 draw, Barnsley won the FA Cup duel while Wanderers romped to a 3-0 win at Oakwell on January 2.
Barnsley hope to return to the Championship after just one season away while a Jack Grealish goal for Aston Villa contributed to Wanderers dropping from the second tier in April 2019.
Charles fired high and wide from Elias Kachunga’s cross as Wanderers looked to replicate the whirlwind start from their Papa John’s Trophy triumph against Plymouth.
Liam Kitching blocked defender George Johnston’s effort but it was Barnsley who looked most likely to break the first-half stalemate.
Luca Connell, a former Bolton academy midfielder, drilled a lot shot from distance that James Trafford – in his farewell home appearance – did not hold first time.
Adam Phillips thumped another effort over the crossbar while Manchester City loanee Trafford blocked Slobodan Tedic’s flick.
Devante Cole turned Ricardo Santos but could not direct his attempt on target while Trafford was called into action to save from Cadden.
And it was Cadden who put the Tykes in front with his sixth goal of the campaign after 63 minutes. Wanderers failed to clear a Phillips corner and Cadden fired home from the edge of the area after Cole played the ball back into his path.
Bolton boss Ian Evatt immediately introduced substitutes Dan N’Lundulu and Kieran Lee for Kachunga and Josh Sheehan and within four minutes the home side were level.
Harry Isted had not had a shot to save but when called upon to deal with Randell Williams’ left-wing centre, he could only push the ball towards Charles for the equaliser.
Barnsley shrugged off the disappointment and Bobby Thomas twice went close to restoring the visitors’ advantage.
Andersen then showed his qualities with a vital block from N’Lundulu but neither team could find a crucial second goal.
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