Report | Barnsley 0 Swansea City 1 (Agg: 0-1)
Swansea City will take a lead back to the Liberty Stadium after Andre Ayew’s superb strike settled the first leg of their play-off semi-final at Barnsley.
In a hard-fought contest of unrelenting commitment from both sides, it was a moment of quality from Swansea’s top scorer that proved the difference; Ayew firing home his 17th goal of the season with his left foot seven minutes before the break.
Steve Cooper’s side had to weather spells of heavy pressure from the Tykes after the break but, with the likes of Marc Guehi, Kyle Naughton, skipper Matt Grimes and Freddie Woodman outstanding defensively, they secured another clean sheet ahead of Saturday’s return leg in south Wales.
It further extended the Swans’ 15-year unbeaten record against Barnsley, and marked the third time this campaign they have beaten them without conceding.
Cooper had brought Naughton and Ben Cabango into his starting line-up as Connor Roberts and Ryan Bennett dropped to the bench.
The hosts make three changes as captain Alex Mowatt, Domink Frieser and in-form striker Daryl Dike come in for Jasper Moon, Carlton Morris and Conor Chaplin respectively.
It was a predictably frenetic start. The Swans saw crosses from Jake Bidwell and former Barnsley man Conor Hourihane cleared from good positions, while Romal Palmer curled high and wide for the hosts at the other end.
But the game soon became a tense battle, with neither side willing to take too many risks in possession as they looked to settle into the contest.
Frieser drove a threatening ball across the Swansea area on the half hour, with Woodman gratefully gathering the low cross after Dike had been unable to get on the end of it.
Liam Cullen dug out a cross at the other end, but Ayew could not adjust enough to apply a finishing touch under pressure from Callum Styles on the edge of the six-yard box.
However, the Ghanaian did not have to wait long before he did open the scoring.
Naughton’s lofted pass breached Barnsley’s offside trap and Ayew got on to the ball and drove inside to curl a left-footed shot across goal and into the far corner of the net.
Woodman calmly saved a Michal Helik header as the hosts sought an immediate response and the Swans held their lead at the interval.
But it took Woodman to make two outstanding saves less than three minutes into the second half to keep the Swans ahead.
The keeper parried substitute Morris’ low shot, and then swooped again to keep out Callum Brittain’s close-range follow-up.
Bidwell bravely threw himself in front of Mowatt’s volley to send that effort wide of goal as the Tykes started the second period firmly on the front foot.
Woodman was soon in action again, getting down low to smother Cauley Woodrow’s free-kick, after Ayew had been booked for a foul on Morris.
Swansea began to ease the pressure and assert control of the ball, although they were fortunate Dike’s final pass was hopelessly overhit when Barnsley broke from a defensive corner with red shirts outnumbering turquoise.
Hourihane curled a free-kick beyond keeper Brad Collins and just beyond the far post, before a slick move involving the Irishman, Wayne Routledge and Fulton ended with the latter’s cross being cut out with Jamal Lowe waiting to strike.
And Lowe then went so close to doubling Swansea’s advantage as he turned Toby Sibbick inside out, but curled just over when finally getting his shot away.
Collins just about gathered in a fierce strike from Grimes as time began to run down, before Morris' flick struck the crossbar in the final moments of stoppage time as Swansea ground out a slender advantage to take into Saturday's second leg.
Barnsley: Brad Collins; Toby Sibbick, Mads Andersen, Michal Helik; Callum Brittain, Romal Palmer (Jordan Williams 78), Alex Mowatt (captain), Callum Styles; Dominik Frieser (Carlton Morris 46), Cauley Woodrow, Daryl Dike (Victor Adeboyejo 88).
Unused Substitutes: Jack Walton, Liam Kitching, Conor Chaplin, Aapo Halme, Michael Sollbauer, Jasper Moon.
Swansea City: Freddie Woodman; Kyle Naughton, Ben Cabango, Marc Guehi, Jake Bidwell; Jay Fulton, Matt Grimes (captain), Conor Hourihane; Andre Ayew, Liam Cullen (Wayne Routledge 69), Jamal Lowe.
Unused Substitutes: Ben Hamer, Joel Latibueadiere, Ryan Bennett, Connor Roberts, Ryan Manning, Korey Smith, Yan Dhanda, Morgan Whittaker.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham