Wigan Athletic’s hopes of winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy were blown away by League One strugglers Barnsley in the Northern Area semi -final.
Latics have only themselves to blame after a below par performance against a Barnsley team who showed more determination to progress and twice took the lead before being pegged back.
Wigan did manage to take the game to a penalty shoot-out, but Craig Davies and David Perkins failed to find the net, whereas the Tykes comfortably scored all their penalties to progress into the Northern Final.
Gary Caldwell fielded a strong starting line up with four changes from the team which drew at Southend. David Perkins, Michael Jacobs Andy Kellett and Jack Hendry coming into the team.
In blustery conditions Latics might have been awarded a penalty in the second minute when Kellett appeared to be fouled in the area but referee Keith Hill turned down the appeals.
Barnsley soon threatened and Ben Pearson brought a good save from Juusi Jaaskelainen, Ivan Toney headed over the bar and then Jaaskelainen had to palm away Adam Hammill’s effort from the edge of the area.
The Tykes did not look like a team at the bottom of the League One table and they took the lead on 42 minutes when Hammill cut inside his markers and curled a superb shot into the far corner.
Wigan were not the cohesive unit of previous weeks with passes going astray and very few goalscoring opportunities created.
Caldwell must have been relieved that they were only one goal behind going into the interval.
It was no surprise when the manager introduced Yanic Wildschut at half time with Reece James making way.
The substitution had an immediate impact and the Dutch winger broke free down the left and crossed low from the byline and Will Grigg was on hand to get the final touch and draw Latics level.
The home team might have gone ahead soon afterwards when a deflected shot was cleared off the line by Alfie Mawson.
But on 53 minutes Barnsley re-took the lead when Toney headed home after Jaaskelainen could only parry a superb drive from Conor Hourihane.
Caldwell almost immediately made a double substitution replacing Alex Revell and Michael Jacobs with Craig Davies and Jordan Flores.
The game was now wide open with both teams attacking and neither team looking comfortable defensively.
With 82 minutes on the clock Latics drew level again. Davies showed good strength in the area and crossed for Grigg who made no mistake from six yards, much to the delight of the home fans.
There was still time for chances at both ends. Sam Winnall shot over and then Toney fired narrowly wide for Barnsley before Wildschut broke clear for Latics but his ball across to Davies was poor and opportunity was missed.
Despite a tense finale with five minutes of added time the match finished level.
Under JPT rules no extra time is played and the match moved straight to a penalty shoot-out.
Max Power showed great composure with Latics first penalty and sent Adam Davies the wrong way. Hourihane did similarly for Barnsley to make it 1-1. But then Craig Davies blazed high over the crossbar.
Toney then made it 1-2. David Perkins then had his tame effort saved by the Barnsley keeper. Sam Winall made it 1-3. Jordan Flores made it 2-3 with a cool finish but Mawson scored his penalty and Barnsley were through to the Northern Final.
Overall it had been a very disappointing performance from a strong Latics line-up. They were second best against a team who have had a torrid time in League One so far.
Gary Caldwell expressed his clear disappointment in his post match comments to the media:
“It is hugely disappointing for everybody; there are not many times in your life that you get the opportunity to win a trophy and, not only that, but one playing at a stadium like Wembley and we have let that opportunity pass us by.
“It is a disappointed dressing room but I said to them that you, more often than not, get what you deserve in football and we didn’t deserve to win the game.”
The players had let themselves and the club down by not making it through to Wembley. Caldwell now has a big job to rally his players for the League One campaign.