WALSALL 1-3 BARNSLEY (AGG 1-6)Walsall will play League One football again next season after their promotion hopes were ended by Barnsley.
Goals from Adam Hammill, Ash Fletcher and Josh Brownhill earned the Tykes a 6-1 aggregate win, with Jordan Cook netting the Saddlers’ late consolation.
Jon Whitney made three changes to the Walsall team that were convincingly beaten 3-0 in the first leg.
Andy Taylor, Sam Mantom and Jordy Hiwula came into a 3-5-2 formation, with Kieron Morris, Anthony Forde and Milan Lalkovic missing out.
Despite Walsall’s need for victory – and goals – it was the visitors who started the brighter.
Their first shot came on five minutes from Adam Hammill, who curled a 20-yard strike straight at Saddlers keeper Neil Etheridge.
Three minutes later the Tykes wasted a glorious chance, as the unmarked Alfie Mawson headed Conor Hourihane’s corner wide from close range.
The home side then registered their first attempt, Taylor with a left-footed free-kick from the edge of the box which curled narrowly over.
Walsall already had a mountain to climb and their task was made even more difficult on 18 minutes as Barnsley took the lead.
A Hourihane cross wasn’t dealt with by the home defence and dropped for Hammill to finish right-footed past Etheridge.
Four goals down on aggregate and needing a footballing miracle, the Saddlers then wasted a fine chance to reduce the deficit midway through the half.
An Alfie Mawson error was pounced on by Hiwula, with the ball finding Tom Bradshaw but, one-on-one, he completely miscued his shot.
The ball deflected off a defender and fell to Rico Henry, who crossed back in for Hiwula to turn a flicked effort wide.
But just before the half-hour mark, the visitors should have increased their aggregate advantage further.
Hourihane’s deep free-kick was met at the far-post by Ash Fletcher, but his downward header was kept out by Etheridge from point-blank range.
Walsall almost pulled one back moments later, but Davies made a superb one-handed save to claw away Bradshaw’s header from Romaine Sawyers’ outside-of-the-boot cross.
The visitors remained a real threat, particularly through Fletcher, who had two fine opportunities to put the tie to bed.
First, he directed a free, eight-yard header straight at Etheridge from Lloyd Isgrove’s right-wing cross when he should have scored.
And then, the Manchester United loanee twisted and turned inside the box before seeing a low drive saved by Etheridge to his right.
Walsall responded with Mantom feeding Sawyers, whose firm strike was held by Davies at his near post.
HALF-TIME: WALSALL 0-1 BARNSLEY
Barnsley remained the superior team after the interval, with the highly-rated Fletcher in the thick of the action.
The striker saw a goalbound drive bravely blocked by O’Connor before then hooking a first-time effort over the bar.
Fletcher was involved again on 55 minutes, as he chased a long ball in behind the Walsall defence.
He tried to square to Sam Winnall for a simple tap-in but the stretching Paul Downing stuck out a leg to divert the ball just wide.
Walsall’s promotion dreams were fading fast but captain Adam Chambers to inspire an improbable comeback with a right-footed effort which Davies tipped wide.
But their comeback hopes were ended once and for all on 66 minutes, when Fletcher controlled Hammill’s cross before firing home.
The Saddlers were a beaten team, although substitute Jordan Cook did pull one back with five minutes remaining when he curled a delightful right-footed shot into the top corner.
But Barnsley had the final say on the cusp of full-time, when Josh Brownhill tapped home after a calamitous defensive mix-up.
FULL-TIME: WALSALL 1-3 BARNSLEY
Team: Etheridge, Demetriou, Taylor (Cook 63’), O’Connor, Downing, Chambers, Mantom, Bradshaw (Forde 83’), Sawyers, Henry, Hiwula (Lalkovic 72’).
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Preston, Morris, Kinsella.
Attendance: 8,022 (1,496 Barnsley supporters).