By Paul Jones
Steve Cooper will hope to guide Swansea City to Wembley tonight with two Premier League clubs reportedly keen to consider him as their next head coach.
West Bromwich Albion, whose relegation has been followed by the confirmation that Sam Allardyce is stepping down, are now being linked with a move for Cooper.
That follows the interest Crystal Palace are understood to hold in taking Cooper to Selhurst Park as successor to Roy Hodgson.
Cooper is said to have joined David Wagner, Chris Wilder and Frank Lampard on Albion’s shortlist of candidates to replace Allardyce as head coach.
For now, the former England U17s coach is focused entirely on Swansea’s attempt to make the Championship play-off final, which they will do if they avoid defeat at home to Barnsley this evening.
The Swans lead 1-0 from the first leg at Oakwell and will be boosted by the presence of 3,000 fans who will be back at the Liberty Stadium for the first time in 14 months.
“Our mentality is that we’ve still got it all to do. We’re not looking for pats on the back. We don’t want to look back too much,” said Cooper.
“I’m seeing a really focused group of players who are very committed to trying to get the job done.
“It is very much tunnel vision and honing in on what it takes to win on Saturday.
“I don’t think you change approach. It’s still 90 minutes, it’s a different day and stadium. “You’ve got to approach the game as you normally would. It doesn’t suit our style or identity to play for a draw.
“Our idea going into games is to try and control the game with and without the ball. There’s a lot at stake, but that’s just part of the preparation.
“We’re aware there’s a 1-0 lead and a draw benefits us, but I don’t think you can go into the game thinking about that too much. It’s just really focusing on what the game plan is.”
Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael – who has also been linked with the Palace vacancy – believes his team can overcome their one-goal deficit and admitted his confidence is such that his squad have not practiced for the possibility of the tie going to penalties.
“If you think about penalties, you think about something that ‘could’ happen,” said the Frenchman.
“I have 90 minutes plus to decide the game. This is my mentality. I do not want to practice the penalties because I prepared the game from the first minute to give everything to have a decision after the 90-plus minute.
“We need to start the game on Saturday like we did the second half at Oakwell. That control, that intensity, it is what we need from the first whistle.
“Swansea didn’t play their best game, but they were focused and disciplined and did the simple things properly.
“They’re very strong, very stable. They are one of the strongest teams in the Championship. But if we score we hope to make them nervous. This is our purpose.
“Swansea will this time have their fans with them. But it’s not always an advantage. It is an emotional feeling. We have to focus on the game-plan and try to score as quick as possible, and then let’s see.”
“I think we are well prepared, we know what we need to do and this is the play-offs – anything can happen.”
The Swans have a clean bill of health and could field the same side that won in Yorkshire on Monday, with Kyle Naughton preferred to Connor Roberts at right-back and 20-year-olds Ben Cabango and Marc Guehi forming a youthful central defensive partnership.
But Cooper may opt to omit young striker Liam Cullen and bolster his midfield as Swansea welcome back fans to the Liberty Stadium for the first time since March 2020.
Barnsley need to score to keep their promotion hopes alive but have yet to do so in three meetings with Swansea this term.
Monday night’s win at Barnsley ended a 17-year gap between play-off appearances for @WayneRoutledge 🏆
— Swansea City AFC (@SwansOfficial) May 21, 2021
Tykes boss Ismael is expected to try and solve that conundrum by recalling Carlton Morris after his strong second-half showing on Monday.
Morris replaced Dominik Frieser at half-time at Oakwell and linked well with Cauley Woodrow and Daryl Dike in a three-man attack.
Skipper Alex Mowatt showed he has fully recovered from a groin problem by playing the full 90 minutes of the first leg.
Swansea City have won all three Championship matches against Barnsley this season – the last Championship team to win both regular league games and both legs of the play-offs against an opponent in a season was Middlesbrough against Brentford in the 2014-15 season.
Swansea have never beaten a team four times in all competitions in a single season in their entire history, while Barnsley have never lost four games against an opponent in a single season.
In the history of the second-tier play-offs, only one team has ever won the first leg of the semi-final away from home and then failed to progress to the final – Leeds United won 1-0 in the first leg against Derby County in 2018-19, before going down 4-2 at home to lose 4-3 on aggregate.
Barnsley have reached the Football League play-off final in each of their three participations in the competition (1999-00, 2005-06 and 2015-16) – they have only had to overturn a first leg semi-final deficit once previously, eliminating Huddersfield Town in 2005-06 (0-1 first leg, 3-1 second leg).
Swansea City have never lost a home match in the Football League play-offs, winning seven of their previous eight on home soil (D1), conceding only four goals.
Barnsley have won all three of their away matches in the Football League play-offs, winning in the second leg of the semi-final on the previous two occasions. They are the only team to play more than once away from home and win every game in the history of the play-offs.
For a second consecutive season, Swansea City’s André Ayew has scored the winner in the first leg of the Championship play-off semi-final, doing so against Brentford last season and Barnsley this season. Since the start of last season, Ayew has scored 33 Championship goals for the Swans, 19 more than any other player.
Barnsley striker Daryl Dike has scored six goals in his last seven away Championship matches – despite only playing his first away game on February 14th, he has scored more away Championship goals than any other Tykes player this season (6).