It has not been a dull couple of weeks from a Sheffield Wednesday perspective. With six seconds of extra time to play, Josh Windass’s diving header spared them another penalty shootout and propelled them into the Championship.
Fifteen years on from his dad, Dean, volleying in here past Adriano Basso, now the Wednesday goalkeeper coach, to win Hull promotion to the Premier League at Bristol City’s expense, another Windass made a Wembley memory to last a lifetime. A few minutes after the final whistle father and son shared a warm embrace on the pitch.
The celebrations were wild. Barry Bannan, the Wednesday captain, who departed with cramp deep into extra time, made a beeline for Windass Sr in the stands.
It was a heartbreaking ending for Barnsley, who played more than 70 minutes with 10 men after Adam Phillips was controversially sent off early in the second half.
Darren Moore, typically, appeared the calmest man in the stadium. The Wednesday substitute Will Vaulks could laugh about his cartwheel and backflip celebration, which proved premature after his extra-time goal was disallowed. He later exhibited further flexibility, doing the worm in the dressing room as the party continued.
“Hi-ho Sheffield Wednesday,” reverberated around this stadium, as it did Hillsborough after their extraordinary playoff comeback against Peterborough, when they had Pep Guardiola gushing after becoming the first team to overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit to reach the final.
That mad game ended with a supporter taking Lee Gregory’s bespoke protective face mask home as a souvenir, only to return it to ensure the striker could feature here. Gregory teed up the 123rd-minute winner, cutting the ball back for Windass, whose header proved too powerful for the Barnsley goalkeeper, Harry Isted, who superbly denied Michael Smith earlier in extra time.
Until the last attack of the game, it seemed that despite the numbers this time being in Wednesday’s favour, they would fail to take advantage. Isted, on loan from Luton who won promotion here on Saturday, made a series of fine saves but Luca Connell missed a chance to earn Barnsley the lead deep into extra time.
The Barnsley centre-back Liam Kitching rampaged past halfway and spread play wide to the substitute Luke Thomas, who unselfishly squared the ball. Cameron Dawson shuffled his feet across goal, rushing from right to left, but with the target gaping Connell shanked his shot wide.
Vaulks was mobbed after finding the net in style, his first-time shot rifling into the top corner, but Moore, the Wednesday manager, had to quickly defuse celebrations after the assistant referee, Akil Howson, raised his flag for offside. “My staff were supposed to be doing their job, but they’re on the pitch. It was crazy,” Moore said. “I was trying to get everybody’s minds back into focus, back into the arena. It was a titanic game.”
Moore inspired his squad by showing them footage of Liverpool’s comeback in Istanbul in 2005 in the buildup to their penalty shootout win over Peterborough. The joyous scenes at full-time here, as almost 44,000 Wednesday fans basked in promotion, were equally incredible. Wednesday, who finished the regular League One season third on 96 points, squeaked over the line.
Devante Cole, son of Andy, started for a Barnsley team who refused to wilt. “We messed it up, coming here we knew we had to get it done because we wanted to win the league,” Windass Jr said.
After the absorbing and, frankly, absurd semi-final drama 11 days ago perhaps it was inevitable this match would be a slow-burner. But how the temperature of this South Yorkshire derby simmered in the second half after a cagey initial period of half-chances.
Barnsley were incensed after a VAR check cleared Gregory of wiping out Kitching inside the Wednesday penalty area and two minutes later Gregory was involved in the incident that prompted the referee, Tim Robinson, to dismiss Phillips.
Gregory and Phillips went sliding in to contest for the ball but the former got to it first and Phillips, a split-second later, careered over and into the Wednesday striker. Phillips protested his innocence but the VAR, Tony Harrington, deemed it serious foul play.
It was ugly but the clash looked worse than it was. Gregory beat the ground but was quickly on his feet. Michael Duff, the Barnsley manager, insisted there was no malice in the challenge and it was hard to disagree.
“There’s no guarantee we would have won a penalty shootout but I think that would have been a fairer way to decide a winner,” a punch-drunk Duff said. “In the biggest game of all, you want it to be the best team that wins. But football is not fair.”