Chris Martin finally broke his Fulham scoring duck as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side returned to winning ways with victory in an absorbing Championship contest at Oakwell this afternoon. The game was not without its complications for Fulham, who trailed twice to predatory strikes from Marley Watkins and Sam Winnall, but the visitors showed considerable character to emerge comfortable winners by the final whistle.
Barnsley scarcely started like a side who had not managed a win in four matches. They raced in front from their very first attack when Watkins punished some sloppy play from their visitors. Tim Ream, preferred to the fit again Michael Madl in central defence, tried to play an intricate ball having advanced to the halfway, but presented possession to Sam Morsy, who slipped a ball through the space the American had vacated. Watkins ran clear into the penalty area and struck an inch-perfect finish across David Button and into the far corner with just four minutes on the clock.
The first half followed a pattern that has been replicated for much of Fulham’s season. Jokanovic’s side enjoyed the majority of the ball and the territory, but struggled to break down a stubborn defence. A Lucas Piazon corner was perfectly delivered but drifted agonisingly across the six yard box without an attacker getting a telling touch and then Martin headed an inviting cross from Denis Odoi over the cross bar from five yards out. Fulham did eventually register their first shot on target through Sone Aluko but Adam Davies easily gathered the Nigerian forward’s effort.
The visitors did level the contest in the 37th minute. A swift Fulham break saw Tom Cairney feed Scott Malone down the left flank and the full back’s clever cut back located Piazon at the near post. The Brazilian had the presence of mind to draw the defender and shoot with little back-lift and a deflection lifted his effort into the far corner. The relief amongst the travelling fans was tangible – but parity was to last for all of four minutes.
Barnsley regained the lead with a simple move and, once again, Morsy was to the force. He was afforded far too much time and space to advance from just over the halfway line deep into Fulham territory and cleverly shifted the ball to Winnall, who advanced on a stranded Button, and finished clinically, with the aid of the far post to restore the home side’s advantage. The concession of another soft goal had stark connotations of Fulham’s struggles last season – but this open contest had several twists and turns to come.
To their credit, Fulham’s heads didn’t drop and they were soon level just before half time. Stefan Johansen delicately flicked a fine through ball from Malone beyond the Barnsley defence and Aluko, who has not been the most reliable of finishers during his short time in south west London, kept his composure admirably to equalise from just inside the area. Level-pegging was the least Fulham defence from a first half they had dominated and harsh words about the quality of the visitors’ defending would have dominated Jokanovic’s half-time team-talk.
They emerged with a positive attitude after the break and, in rather fortuitous circumstances, took the lead with their first attack of the second period. Malone found himself in acres of space down the left flank and whipped over a cross which deceived the backpeddling Davies and flew into the far corner of the net – to give the visitors the lead for the first time in the game. It was an advantage that Fulham never looked like relinquishing, especially once Martin had notched his first goal since signing on loan from Derby at the end of August. The Scottish international jinked cleverly away from his man in the box and met Malone’s cross with a thumping header from six yards out.
Fulham’s comfortable position was enhanced when Josh Scowen was shown a straight red card for a nasty two-footed challenge on Scott Parker moments later – and the visitors opted to play out time rather than going for the kill in the closing stages. Both Aluko and Malone missed guilt-edged chances to extend Fulham’s lead, spooning shots over from inside the box, before David Button easily claimed an effort from Andy Yiadom right at the death.
BARNSLEY (4-4-2): Davies; Yialdom, Kpekawa, Roberts, MacDonald; Scowen, Morsy (Bree 80), Hammill, Kent; Watkins (Armstrong 71), Winnall (Bradshaw 71). Subs (not used): Townsend, Lee, A. Jackson, Bird.
BOOKED: Winnall, Hammill.
SENT OFF: Scowen.
GOALS: Watkins (4), Winnall (41).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Malone, Sigurdsson, Ream; Parker, Johansen (Tunnicliffe 70); Cairney (Kebano 84), Piazon, Aluko; Martin (Smith 90). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Fredericks, Sessegnon, Madl.
BOOKED: Johansen, Cairney, Martin, Button.
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Gloucester).