Barnsley boss Michael Duff is relishing a League One play-off final showdown against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday after seeing his side prove the naysayers wrong to book a trip to Wembley.
The Tykes will face their South Yorkshire neighbours for a place in the Championship on May 29 after overcoming Bolton in their semi-final.
Having drawn the first leg 1-1, Barnsley secured a 2-1 aggregate victory thanks to a narrow win at Oakwell on Friday, Liam Kitching netting the only goal of the game in the 24th minute when he powered home a header from Luca Connell’s superb cross.
Duff hailed his side’s performance and reflected on how far they had come since he was appointed head coach last June, saying: “It was a tight game over the two legs. We knew that they’d have more of the ball than us but that didn’t bother us.
“I think my oldest player is 27 so the one thing we have is energy. When we bring an intensity and quality to it, then we’re a really hard team to beat.
“When we walked into the football club, there was a real disconnect in terms of a boardroom reshuffle, new staff and 26 players in and out, I think it was.
“There was a sort of apathy in terms of ‘Well, you’ve sold all the best players, this year’s pointless. We might as well not turn up this year’.
“We had a few bumps along the way. We had a month without scoring a goal in October, so they’d been written off really early, this group of players. Post-Christmas, it’s been building and building.”
Looking ahead to the final against Wednesday, Duff said: “They’re a very good team. They’ve not had many losses, but they’ve had two, which have been against us, so we know we can hurt them.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a brilliant occasion but we’re not going there for a day out. We are in it to win it now.”
Bolton manager Ian Evatt rued his side’s lack of cutting edge as they failed to make the most of the possession they enjoyed against Barnsley.
However, he immediately set his sights on returning “bigger, better and stronger” next season with the goal of securing an automatic promotion place.
He said: “The biggest disappointment for me is the outcome, really. We controlled the game tonight.
“I think we started the better team and quietened the crowd – everything we spoke about doing. Really, the goal came out of the blue. It’s definitely not a foul.
“It kind of rocked us a little bit and it took us a while to find our stride again. That came at the start of the second half. Again, we had control and we were dominating the ball, but we just didn’t penetrate enough, and we lacked a cutting edge.
“I think really that’s the story of our season. If you look at our defensive record, it’s up there with Ipswich, but we just haven’t scored enough goals.
“There’s significant progression and significant improvement. The board have been outstanding with their support for me and that will continue next season.
“People are going to expect us to be in those top two positions next season and I don’t see why we can’t be. We have to work really, really hard to leave no stone unturned and come back bigger, better and stronger.”
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