Chris Martin scored one and made another on his return to the Fulham starting line-up as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side made up crucial ground on the Championship’s chasing pack with a comfortable win over Barnsley at Craven Cottage this afternoon. The Londoners were grateful for the Scottish international’s change of heart following his one-man strike over a possible return to Derby County at the turn of the year as he ended Fulham’s wretched run of missing penalties and laid on a vital second for Scott Malone to end Barnsley’s impressive five-match unbeaten streak.
Jokanovic had invested plenty of time behind the scenes at Motspur Park into coaxing Martin, who had broken his Fulham duck against the same opponents at Oakwell in October, back into the first-team fold and his efforts paid off as the forward offered the predatory instincts and cutting edge that the side had so sorely missed in Martin’s high-profile absence. He showed plenty of character in stepping forward to clinically convert a generous spot-kick right on the stroke of half-time after Angus MacDonald had been adjudged to have hauled over Kevin McDonald at a corner, especially as he had missed his last spot-kick against Rotherham. The Scottish international made no such mistake here, though, clinically sending Adam Davies the wrong way to give Fulham the lead their bright start to the contest might have just merited.
The home side began the game at a high tempo, but despite plenty of possession, struggled to create clear-cut chances against Paul Heckingbottom’s well-organised outfit. Tom Cairney had the first sight of goal but Davies easily fielded his tame shot, before making a more far impressive reaction save to deny Martin after Scott Malone’s delicious through ball sent the on-loan striking haring in on goal. The industrious Lucas Piazon drove an effort wide of goal from the edge of the box, before the visitors began to get a foothold on the contest.
Tricky winger Adam Hammill, who had already tested David Button from range in the early stages, came the closest to opening the scoring for the Reds’ with an outrageous effort that would have been a contender for goal of the season. The former Liverpool wide man embarked on a mazy dribble through the centre of the Fulham defence tricking his way past five would-be tacklers before crashing a rising drive off the top of the crossbar from around 20 yards out. The Tykes carved out a more conventional opening a few moments later and young Welsh striker Tom Bradshaw would have been disappointed to have glanced his header wide when he was left unattended from Conor Hourihane’s floated free-kick.
Barnsley, who included former Fulham midfielder Ryan Williams in an advanced position behind lone striker Bradshaw, were punished in the most brutal of fashions by referee Andy Davies’ decision to penalise MacDonald for a shirt-pull at a set-play – and Fulham were far more in control during the second 45 minutes as a result. Martin, the hulking focal point that Jokanovic had missed so badly over the past fortnight, was proving a real handful and he almost doubled his tally when he flicked a volley into the side netting at the near post – something he repeated later in the half from a clever Stefan Johansen corner.
The Whites were eager to stretch the game, with genuine width providing by the pace of Ryan Fredericks overlapping the excellent Sone Aluko down the right, and Malone bombing on to good effect on the opposite flank when Piazon, who covered an exceptional amount of ground, drifted infield. It was that adventurousness that created Fulham’s second goal ten minutes after the break. Martin drifted a clever ball over the Barnsley defence that – once Piazon had ducked out of the way – allowed Malone to strike a sensational finish across Davies and into the far corner on the volley. The full back gasped in astonishment, as did most of the crowd, at the jaw-dropping quality of his outstanding strike.
The hosts had several chances to increase their lead. Johansen, whose box-to-box running was as boundless as ever, almost crowned a majestic move comprising countless passes with a measured finish but sidefooted wide after a lovely interchange with Piazon on the run and Davies made two splendid saves to deny Martin and Cairney. To their credit, Barnsley continued to play their own brand of eye-catching football – and spurred on by a bold triple substitution – could have fought their way back into the contest. Marley Watkins shot over from a promising position and the Tykes might very easily have won a penalty of their own when Adam Armstrong was sent tumbling to the floor by Tomas Kalas, but referee Davies waved away the loud appeals of more than 1,000 travelling fans.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks, Malone, Kalas, Ream; McDonald; Johansen (Parker 88), Cairney; Aluko (Odoi 90), Piazon (Sessegnon 89), Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Sigurdsson, Madl, Smith.
GOALS: Martin (pen 45), Malone (55).
BARNSLEY (4-4-1-1): Davies; Bree, White, MacDonald, Roberts; Scowen, Hourihane, Watkins, Hammill (Kent 70); R. Williams (Moncur 70); Bradshaw (Armstrong 70). Subs (not used): Townsend, Evans, Jackson, Payne.
BOOKED: White, Watkins.
REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire).