Nick Colgan, Barnsley's goalkeeper, turned despair into joy to clinch his side's place in next season's Championship with the decisive save as Andy Ritchie's side defeated Swansea 4-3 on penalties after a pulsating play-off final. Colgan had committed a major howler in normal time, allowing a shot from Andy Robinson to slip from his grasp and cross the line to give Kenny Jackett's team a 2-1 lead. It was to the 32-year-old Irishman's enormous relief that Daniel Nardiello took an exhilarating contest into extra time by equalising for Barnsley with a second-half free-kick.
But after a goalless additional half-hour, Colgan emerged as Barnsley's hero. The Swansea striker Adebayo Akinfenwa scooped his kick over the bar to give the Yorkshire side the edge in the shoot-out, then Colgan dived to his right to smother the ninth of the penalties, denying a distraught Swansea full-back Alan Tate, to turn the Cardiff stadium a sea of exultant red.
"Who would be a goalkeeper?" Colgan said afterwards. "I've not had a bad season, but if we had lost the game it would have been remembered for that mistake. The pitch was not in the best condition but I couldn't blame it on that.
"It was an elementary mistake. But the lads said to me at half-time it was time they dug me out of a hole rather than the other way around, and fortunately they did. I knew I had let the lads down, and the shoot-out was my chance to redeem myself. It sums up goalkeeping. One minute you are the villain, the next a hero."
Colgan is out of contract at the end of this month but is certain to be offered a new one now, although Ritchie said it was always his intention to keep the player. "In many ways, Nicky's displays have made him our player of the season," Ritchie said. "We are hoping to sort something out with him next week."
Swansea, who provided more than 30,000 fans in a 55,000 crowd, had recovered from the concession of a goal after 20 minutes to lead 2-1 after 40 minutes of normal time, and for long periods looked the more likely winners in the view of manager Jackett, whose team led League One at the turn of the year but ultimately scrambled into the top six on the last day. "Taking away the penalties, it was a game we should have won but ended up drawing," he said. "I felt we were the dominant side and had more chances, so this is a bitter disappointment as an opportunity lost."
Barnsley had gone ahead against the run of play when Paul Hayes fired home after Martin Devaney's cross from the right had been only partially cleared by Kevin Austin. Swansea levelled nine minutes later when Rory Fallon beat Colgan with an overhead kick. The goalkeeper's nightmare moment came five minutes before half-time. But Nardiello silenced the Welsh majority in the stadium when his 20-yard free-kick bypassed the Swansea wall, behind which Willy Gueret barely moved.
The game's high tempo fell away only in the last 15 minutes, when Barnsley's captain, Paul Reid, and the unfortunate Tate missed chances to settle the argument, consigning two weary teams to a sapping extra 30 minutes before the ultimate test of nerve revealed Ritchie's team to have the stronger hearts.