Mike Holden fancies the Tykes to strike early against Millwall on Sunday afternoon.
Paul Heckingbottom is vowing to take the game to Millwall when his Barnsley side line up at Wembley for the second time in less than two months. And given their all-round potential to handle the occasion better, there’s mileage in backing the Tykes to hit the Londoners hard and early, then not look back. So take the Barnsley/Barnsley half-time/full-time outcome at 15/4.
In terms of historical play-off trends, the omens are stacked up in favour of the Yorkshire club playing Championship football next season. The lowest-finishing team, when reaching the final, secures promotion 60 per cent of the time, a figure that rises further still for late interlopers who gatecrash the play-off party in the final few weeks.
Throw in their ratio of 2.0 points per game when going head to head against the rest of the top six (in stark contrast to Millwall’s paltry figure of 0.9), the resounding 6-1 semi-final aggregate win over Walsall, plus a top-ranking 64 per cent shot ratio since Christmas, and you’re talking about a team that ticks almost every box that matters.
This might all seem rather dismissive of Millwall and Neil Harris deserves huge credit for the way he has knocked the Lions back into shape following relegation last term. But the Wembley stage often requires a bit more than the honest qualities on which their resurgence has been built and this might be where they get found out.
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Barnsley are buzzing to the brim with pace, energy and invention and if they can open this game up early enough, as Heckingbottom fully intends to, then they drag the Lions out of their comfort zone and possibly even turn this into a high-scoring encounter totally at odds with the shot data both teams were churning out during the bread and butter fixtures.
The Tykes registered eight shots on target in both legs of their semi-final tie with the Saddlers, the same as Millwall could muster over the two legs combined against Bradford, when they essentially capitalised on some statuesque defending as the Bantams froze in the opening 45 minutes of the first leg at Valley Parade.
So there might also be additional value in the 13/2 available on Barnsley to score over 2.5 goals, a feat which - if you include the semi-final against Walsall - they’ve managed in five out of 12 previous matches against the rest of the top six. Again, it’s a bet that relies heavily on an early breakthrough but the noises coming out of Oakwell provide ample comfort in the build-up.
"We’ve got pace and energy throughout the team so it’s pointless sitting back and trying to contain teams," says Heckingbottom. "We have to go after them and try to affect them. We’ve got a young group of players, they’re athletic and they’re fit, so we play with pace. We will play to our strengths. The minimum the opposition must do is match us."
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