May 16, 2021
They have one of the lowest budgets in the Championship, but the Yorkshire club have thrived under Valérien Ismaël and face Swansea in the first leg of the play-off semi-final on Monday
Unsung Barnsley nurture unlikely Premier League dream
On Monday morning, about seven hours before reporting to Oakwell for the first leg of the Championship play-offs, Valérien Ismaël and his Barnsley players will be on the adjacent training pitch, running through set pieces for the best part of an hour, as they have done before most games – home and away – in this most magical of seasons. “We’ve done well from set pieces this year [only Cardiff have scored more league goals from dead balls], and maybe that’s made the difference,” says the captain, Alex Mowatt.
Standing in the way of Barnsley and a Wembley final are Swansea, the only team to do the double over Ismaël’s side. Barnsley, who are thought to have a bottom-three budget, ran Chelsea close in the FA Cup in February and Ismaël believes that narrow defeat proved a “game-changer” in fuelling the squad’s belief about what was possible – they won nine of their following 10 games, drawing the other. “We could see that we can compete with top players,” says the forward Dominik Frieser. “It was a key moment that ‘we could go to the Premier League’.”
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