Swansea’s captain fantastic Matt Grimes will have the honour of leading his side out at Wembley after his sublime strike kept their Premier League dream alive.
Steve Cooper watched his skipper curl an unstoppable effort into the top corner to give Barnsley a mountain to climb in this playoff semi-final second leg.
Just as the Swans were cruising towards a date with Brentford, Cauley Woodrow brought them back down to earth with a second-half strike to narrow the aggregate lead to a single goal, but Swansea showed their defensive mettle to hold firm.
Swansea are through to the play-off final at Wembley after beating Barnsley 2-1 on aggregate
Matt Grimes hit a curling strike from the edge of the penalty area to put Swansea 1-0 up
The Welsh side will shed the favourites tag to become playoff final underdogs at the home of football, but they are now just 90 minutes from the promised land after rolling up their sleeves and winning ugly against the Tykes.
There was a sense of expectation amongst the returning Swansea faithful as they filtered into the Liberty Stadium for the first time in 441 days to watch their side record a fourth win over Barnsley this season.
The 3,000 strong home support had watched Andre Ayew produce a moment of class from their homes last weekend to put them in control of this playoff semi-final.
After faltering at this stage last season, Cooper and his charges knew all they had to do was negotiate this 90 minutes to earn a shot at redemption against Brentford, who ended their top-flight aspirations 10 months ago.
Barnsley fought back through a Cauley Woodrow first-time strike but it wasn’t enough
Barnsley stuck to a game plan of brute aerial force that put Swansea under a lot of pressure
Cooper’s men held a goal lead heading into their semi-final second leg last season only to let their advantage slip.
But the Swansea head coach, determined to avoid a repeat of 10 months ago, turned to a promotion hero of 10 years ago to steer his side to Wembley.
The 36-year-old Wayne Routledge was brought into the starting XI to spearhead the attack in place of Liam Cullen in the only change from last weekend’s victory at Oakwell.
Barnsley had not managed to score a goal against Swansea in three attempts this season, and American striker Daryl Dike paid the price as Valerian Ismail rethought his attack.
Dike’s physical presence was replaced by the pace of Carlton Morris, while Dominik Frieser gave way for Victor Adeboyejo, who had not scored since December.
But despite the change in personnel the Tykes stuck to their brutal aerial approach – and it had the Swans unsettled as emotions ran high.
The hosts struggled to get the ball on the ground against the intense press from Ismael’s side.
Chances were at a premium for both sides in a dire first half – until Swansea’s captain stepped up to take their Wembley dream one step closer to reality.
The match was a tense encounter, with neither side creating chances in a dire first half
Routledge showed his extensive experience by winning a cute free-kick deep in Barnsley territory after a battle with defender Michal Helik.
Barnsley thought they had cleared the danger when goalkeeper Brad Collins punched Conor Hourihane’s whipped cross away from the six-yard box.
But Jay Fulton got his head to the ball to steer it into the path of skipper Grimes, who dropped a shoulder to shimmy past the on-rushing Callum Brittain, before caressing a sumptuous curling effort past Collins into the top corner.
The tide had turned, and the Swans had Collins flapping again moments later from a Hourihane corner.
But they were content enough to head in at half-time with a 2-0 aggregate lead at half-time.
Everything was looking up for the Swans, until they were dealt a blow six minutes into the second act when Routledge’s knee gave way in a challenge with Mads Andersen.
Swansea’s Wayne Routledge was stretchered off with a knee injury and may miss the final
Carlton Morris’ header forced Swansea goal-keeper Freddie Woodman’s first save of the game
The Swansea legend now looks certain to miss the play-off final after being stretchered off at the Liberty.
The vocal home support were singing their side home but got a reminder of Barnsley’s threat when a Morris header forced Freddie Woodman into his first save of the evening after an hour.
Half-time substitute Jordan Williams was the next to get a sight of goal after a Styles cross found it’s way to him, but Jake Bidwell quickly closed the space to get a crucial block on the ball.
The hosts looked to have played their way through an intense spell of pressure, but there was one more twist in the tale.
Williams charged down the right flank in a rapid breakaway and left Grimes for dead, before squaring an inch perfect cross to Woodrow, who dispatched a first-time effort last Woodman.