On paper Chelsea’s fifth-round FA Cup tie with Barnsley looks pretty one-sided. Despite their indifferent form, new Blues boss Thomas Tuchel will be hoping his team have little difficulty disposing of their South Yorkshire-based opponents.
“We didn’t really set the competition alight, to begin with”, ex-Tykes defender Stephen Foster tells FFT. “Blackpool was a tough game, then Southend away was a long way for us to travel and was a night game. They played really well but we managed to scrape through with a Jamal Campbell-Ryce wondergoal.”
Drawn away to Liverpool in the next round, things went as predicted. Dirk Kuyt opened the scoring. Barnsley had their backs to the wall for most of the game. Goalkeeper Luke Steele, who had only joined the night before, made several brilliant saves to keep his new team in it.
But then, with just under an hour played, Martin Devaney got the better of John Arne Riise on the right-hand side. Attacking the Kop, he put a phenomenal cross into the box. It was met by Foster, who beat Jamie Carragher and Peter Crouch to head beyond Charles Itandje.
Barnsley continued to resist the waves of Liverpool attacks, before being controversially denied a penalty in the last minute. Brian Howard was still complaining to Martin Atkinson when he received the ball on the edge of the box. Seconds later, after a jink past Xabi Alonso, it was in the bottom corner of Itandje’s net. Cue pandemonium.
Surprisingly Foster did not toast the win as you might expect. “It was a huge anti-climax for me, because all the rest of the lads got on the coach back. I was only in Warrington so I’d arranged to get a lift home and missed out on most of the celebrations!”
Little did he know more were to come after Chelsea. Spurred on by a heaving Oakwell, Barnsley were arguably the better team that day. Despite facing a strong team including John Terry, Michael Ballack and Nicolas Anelka, Foster says it felt quite comfortable.
This time Kayode Odejayi was the hero, heading in another Devaney cross. It was the striker’s first goal in 28 games, and arguably the most important of his career, sending Barnsley to their first FA Cup semi-final in 96 years.
At full time, fans spilled onto the pitch, with it taking 40 minutes for the team to get down the tunnel. The celebrations continued into the dressing room and players’ lounge, however Foster missed the majority of them once again, after having to commute home.
A month later for the Wembley clash with Cardiff, Barnsley wore special shirts with a star to signify their 1912 FA Cup win. Sadly for their travelling fans, an early strike from Joe Ledley meant it would not be added to.
Being so close to that opportunity is something which still bothers Foster. “Cardiff were a good team, but to beat Liverpool, beat Chelsea and then get beat by a team in your own league was difficult to take. If we’d have got beaten by Man United I’m sure it would have felt a lot different.
“Obviously I don’t have any regrets, but now you just think it was one more step. It’s just a niggly feeling that we were that close to getting through to the final of the FA Cup which would have been absolutely unbelievable.”
Strangely, 2008 is not Barnsley’s best result against the Blues in this competition. That came in 1989, when they won 4-0 at Oakwell. Tuchel’s new club actually have a zero per cent record against Barnsley in the FA Cup, so the German might want to think twice about rotating his team on Thursday.
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