A piece of predatory finishing from veteran striker Neil Shipperley steered Barnsley into second as the Tykes rode their luck to beat Fulham and move above Manchester City in the race for promotion to the Premiership.
Shipperley punished some slack marking from the visitors to beat Maik Taylor after Craig Hignett had flicked Darren Barnard’s corner towards the back post four minutes before the break. It was the only goal of a game that the hosts barely deserved to win with Fulham playing the better football and missing a host of chances to improve their own hopes of making the play-offs, having began the evening four points off the top six.
Barnsley boss Dave Beasant admitted afterwards: “That game should have been shown after the television watershed. We were apprehensive and we didn’t play at well but at least we got the points.”
The home side looked subdued from the outset and it was the Londoners who carried more of a threat in the first half. Barry Hayles burst away from John Curtis and onto a through ball from Steve Finnan but fired disappointing wide of goal. Wing back Steve Finnan should have put Paul Bracewell’s side in front when he pounced on a mistake from Chris Barker but Kevin Miller dealt with his tame shot easily before Sean Davis flashed a drive from distance wide.
“The game should have gone after the TV watershed,” he said. “We were apprehensive and we didn’t play but at least we got the points.”
Barnsley’s opening forays hardly smacked of a side stricken by promotion anxiety and Fulham, who began the night four points off a play-off place, began to imagine that remedying their season might not be beyond them.
The Whites were punished for leaving Shipperley all alone at the back post and the former Crystal Palace striker scored his tenth goal of the season only seconds after Terry Phelan had almost put through his own net when panicked by the Shipperley’s presence in the same spot after a brilliant ball in from Barnard.
The Barnsley full back than escaped with only a booking after a dreadful challenge on Bjarne Goldbaek, which ended the Danish international’s evening early. His replacement, Wayne Collins, almost snaffled an equaliser after Hayles had surged past Barker down the right flank. The former Bristol Rovers forward, who appeared Fulham’s likeliest source of a leveller, was then left ruing poor control after a poor Miller clearance had offered a glorious opportunity to bring the Londoners level.
Barnard was fortunate to be only booked by referee Graham Laws for a wild challenge on Goldbaek which caused the Fulham defender to be replaced by Wayne Collins at the interval. Collins almost turned in a Fulham equaliser at the near post after Hayles had torn past Barker on the right and then Hayles, whose pace offered Fulham their likeliest outlet, suffered for loose control as he failed to prey upon Miller’s poor clearance.
BARNSLEY (5-3-2): Miller; Curtis, Barnard, Chettle, Morgan, Barker; Tinkler (van der Laan 82), Appleby (Thomas 70), Hignett; Shipperley, Hristov (Sheron 63). Subs (not used): Eaden, Dyer.
GOAL: Shipperley (41).
FULHAM (5-4-1): Taylor; Finnan, Phelan, Morgan (Lewis 66), Melville, Coleman; Ball, Hayward, Davis (Peschisolido 45), Goldbaek (W. Collins 45); Hayles. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Symons.
REFEREE: Graham Laws (Whitley Bay).