Walsall v Barnsley: Saddlers need "colossal" play-off semi-final second leg performance

Jason Demetriou's luckless own goal off Adam Hamill's original shot started the rot for Walsall at Oakwell
Jason Demetriou's luckless own goal off Adam Hamill's original shot started the rot for Walsall at Oakwell

Walsall interim head coach Jon Whitney says the Saddlers are well capable of the "colossal" performance they need to turn round their League One play-off semi-final against Barnsley.

Saturday's 3-0 first-leg loss has left them with an uphill battle on Thursday.

No side has overturned a three-goal first-leg deficit to make a final in the 29-year history of the play-offs.

"It makes it such an uphill task but it's one which we can climb and I truly believe that," Whitney told BBC Sport.

"But I need to know the players believe that. We need a colossal performance. But it's no good in me having this belief and incredible optimism if they don't have it."

Three-goal swing needed at the Banks's Stadium

Walsall will start on Thursday with a minimum target of knowing that they have to score three times, regardless of whatever else might happen on the night.

They may feel perturbed that it is now over a year since they beat any team by three goals or more at Bescot - the 5-0 win over Crawley in April 2015.

Whitney's side are also up against a Barnsley side who have leaked just five goals in their last 12 eight games, keeping eight clean sheets in that time.

But they have produced some stunning shows on the road this term, notably the 4-0 early season win at Blackpool, the 4-1 victory at Chesterfield in March, Whitney's first game in charge, and the 5-0 final-day win at Port Vale.

"We have had performances this season where we have been unplayable," said Whitney. "One of those performances has got to come on Thursday night. We have got to rise to the challenge.

"The rewards are much, much greater if you can come back from something like that. I need players who play with pride. Every challenge has to mean something."

Five great footballing comebacks

While no English play-off tie has ever been turned round from a three-goal deficit, Walsall boss Whitney only has to point to some of the more famous moments of past football history to prove that coming back from three goals down can be done:

1. Vicarage Road 1980 . . . Watford 7-1 Southampton

After winning 4-0 in their League Cup second round against Watford at The Dell, Southampton put out a weakened side in the return, even leaving out the then England captain Kevin Keegan. Watford got it back to 5-1 to take the tie to extra time, before scoring twice more to win 7-5 on aggregate.

2. Istanbul 2005 . . . AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool

Trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half-time, a Steven Gerrard-inspired Liverpool scored three times in five minutes to peg it back to 3-3 with still half an hour to go at the Ataturk Stadium. The Reds then held their nerve through extra time to win 3-2 on penalties, for an English record fifth European Cup triumph.

3. St James' Park 2011 . . . Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal

Having gone 4-0 down to Arsenal inside 19 minutes, Joey Barton looked like he had only grabbed a consolation goal when he scored the first of his two penalties with 22 minutes left. After Leon Best had pulled another one back, Barton converted a second spot kick before Cheik Tiote's long-range equaliser with three minutes left.

4. Madejski Stadium 2012 . . . Reading 5-7 Arsenal

Arsenal looked down and out in their League Cup fourth-round tie at Reading, trailing 4-0 inside 37 minutes. Having got one back by half-time, Olivier Giroud's 64th-minute goal was followed by two in a minute late on to level at 4-4 - and the Gunners scored three more in extra time, Theo Walcott competing a hat-trick.

5. Anfield 2016 . . . Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund

After drawing 1-1 in Dortmund, Liverpool trailed 2-0 nine minutes into their Europa League quarter-final second leg. Now needing to score three times, they got one back only to concede again, to stand 4-2 down on aggregate with 24 minutes left. But they scored three more, the last a minute into injury time, to win 5-4.

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