I have to admit I was sceptical when I read that Fulham were extending Scott Parker’s contract at the end of last season. There can be no doubting the veteran’s value around Motspur Park and guiding the younger players and his ability on the field is still beyond question, but you wondered whether the rough and tumble of the Championship – which would unforgiving on his legs – would eventually catch up with him. But Parker is one of those performers who just seems ageless: a warrior who lives for the battle, covers ever blade of grass almost deceptively, forever raging against the dying of the light.
His thirst is unquenchable, his desire almost permanently unsatisfied. He remains one of the few natural leaders Fulham possess and not because he does the showy stuff that the demonstrative modern captain does. Parker simply leads by example – by putting his everything into winning that second ball, summoning reserves of energy to reach a lost cause or shut down an open opponent, and by offering a quiet word to a team-mate during a break in play. Not for him the histrionics favoured by others, because Parker has already proved his quality – it is now simply about getting his side over the line.
Saturday’s display was the latest in a succession during this campaign that could have been designed merely to address those who felt his time had past. His passing was unruffled from the beginning of a contest that you felt could mark a key point in Fulham’s season – when the optimism of their early-season pace setting might have given way to a sinking feeling following the derby defeat by QPR. He was efficient in possession, the protector of the back four, striding forward to break up play and distribute the ball forward briskly, and rarely looked rushed for time despite being on a field surrounded by players nearly a decade his junior.
Perhaps the most impressive element of his play these days is how integral he is to Fulham’s displays without doing a great deal. He controlled the tempo from a deep-lying midfield position and marshalled his troops intelligently, picking the perfect moment to move forward himself, but always aware that his first job was to ensure Fulham weren’t caught out by quick breaks once Barnsley had scored those two first-half goals. His passing was rarely spectacular – designed to do no now harm rather than unlock the opposition – but through his careful prompting, the visitors gradually gained the decisive foothold in the game that their domination deserved.
Then there’s the revelation that remains this 36 year-old’s extraordinary engine. Having done an awful lot of diligent defensive work in front of the back four, there he was bursting forward into the final third with a few minutes to go to create a good opening for Sone Aluko with a precise pass. Even after he was clattered unceremoniously by Josh Scowen and had injured his ankle, there was no chance he was leaving the fray. Back he came after a short break for treatment and immediately surged away from two tacklers to free Scott Malone down the left flank. If anything, Scowen’s late challenge – and there’s been some debate online about whether it merited a red card – seemed to whet his appetite for the battle once again.
It remains to be seen whether Parker will be as effective come Spring as he has proved to be in early autumn, but he has firmly established himself as one of the first names on Slavisa Jokanovic’s team sheet – and a pivotal part of the base that shields a defence that still has far too many nervy moments. There were few occasions at Oakwell where he could be accused of slowing down the play – something that was levelled at Parker regularly during the previously campaign – and he has also seemed to jettison that exaggerated pirouette when sides press him in possession. On this evidence, there can be no doubting his importance. You can only marvel at how, rather like Danny Murphy, Parker is maturing very nicely indeed.