At the last hurdle, Millwall stumbled and were unable to capitalise on a strong end-of-season to secure promotion in a Wembley play-off final.
Ultimately, it was a game too far for a Millwall side who, on balance, exceeded expectations over the season but couldn’t find the answer to Barnsley, who had all the momentum coming into this game.
The Tykes were bottom of the table in November but Paul Heckingbottom had engineered a remarkable triumph akin to Leicester’s run in the Premier League. Goals from Ashley Fletcher, Lloyd Isgrove and Adam Hammill confirmed their dominance on the day.
Millwall’s game plan was thrown out the window with a goal in the second minute and the team quickly opted for a strategy of raw nerve and pluck, which was commendable to watch but hardly served the team well.
The Lions were seemingly overwhelmed and unable to feed their prolific goal scoring duo of Lee Gregory and Steve Morison, with their single goal coming from centre-back Mark Beevers.
The Yorkshire side walked away with promotion to the Championship with Millwall in League One for a second season, to be joined by fellow south London rivals Charlton.
Millwall had stuttered at the start of the season, still dealing with the hangover of promotion while Neil Harris got to grips with management. But they had clawed their way into the fight and fans consoled themselves with the thought that this was an unexpected bonus – although the pain was very real at the final whistle.
Perhaps the Lions knew it wasn’t their day when centre-back Bryon Webster pulled out just 25minutes before the kick-off on Sunday (May 29) while Joe Martin suffered an injury during the first half.
Harris told the club’s website said: “Barnsley deserved to win the game but clearly those absences did affect us. All your preparation with the team on set plays at both ends goes out of the window.
“But we were able to bring our club captain Tony Craig in and after conceding two early goals we got ourselves back into the game and I felt at half-time we could find an equaliser and then go on to win. It didn’t quite work out like that.
“The message to the players is that we are proud of what we have achieved, but just now the defeat is hard to take.
“My job now is to build a better squad for next season and make sure that we come out with all guns blazing.
“We have to look at lessons we have learned this year, myself included, and become a better, fitter, hungrier squad capable of winning game after game next season.”
Millwall fans marred the showpiece event when they attempted to break into the opposing team’s end following the third goal. A few made it through the barrier and there were clashes before the melee was brought under control. Some 15 arrests were made outside the ground.
Meanwhile, on the bottom tier, Millwall fans began hurling coins towards Barnsley’s Conor Hourihane and Adam Hammill.
The FA said on Twitter: “The FA condemns the disorder caused by a small number of fans at today’s League One Play Off final between Barnsley and Millwall.
“We will work closely with the clubs, the Football League and the Met Police to identify those involved and take appropriate action.”