For 45 minutes, Slavisa Jokanovic’s scowl said it all. Fulham had the perfect opportunity to leapfrog their promotion rivals – who were either in FA Cup action or seen their league fixtures postponed – at beleaguered Barnsley, who had mustered just one win in thirteen games, but the Whites struggled to match the Tykes’ desire and intensity as their hosts sought to put in a performance to honour the memory of their inspirational chairman Patrick Cryne, whose sad death from cancer was announced earlier this week.
It was Paul Heckingbottom’s men who made all the running in the first period – setting the tempo from the off by winning the loose balls and looking ambitious in possession. Kieffer Moore, making his Oakwell debut after signing from Ipswich, made an immediate impression with a perfectly weighted pass for Stevie Mallan, who followed a fine first touch with a curling effort from fully thirty yards that Marcus Bettinelli did well to get his fingertips too. Moore than headed a long throw from Dmitri Cavare just over – and the visiting defence looked far from reassuring.
It eventually caved in just after the hour mark when slack marking at a set play allowed Liam Lindsay two chances to score from close range. Bettinelli saved brilliantly with his feet initially as the ball seemed to squirm towards goal off Lindsay’s hand, but was blocked off by George Moncur as he tried to repel the Scottish centre back’s follow-up. The Fulham goalkeeper was booked for his protests – with Ryan Fredericks also mounting his own protestations. It might have been two moments later when Tom Bradshaw burst clear, but Fredericks’ rapid recovery snuffed out the danger.
Fulham’s brightest moments came in the form of Ryan Sessegnon’s rampaging running. The teenager thought he’d won a penalty on the cusp of half-time when he was flattened by Cavare in full flow, but referee Andy Davies adjudged the foul to have been committed outside the box – much to Fulham’s frustration. The game turned moments later when Cavare, who had gone into the book for that overzealous challenge, reacted to a late tackle from Stefan Johansen by pushing over the midfielder – and earning himself an early bath.
Jokanovic laid onto his charges at half-time and sent on Southampton loanee Matt Targett for his Fulham debut in place of Denis Odoi. It took just four minutes for the Londoners to level matters. Fredericks stormed in the Barnsley box, nutmegging two defenders along the way, and lashed a powerful shot against the near post – but Sessegnon was on hand to gobble up the rebound from inside the six-yard box.
The visitors then struggled to test Davies consistently enough as Barnsley’s ten men sought to cling on for a point. Neeskens Kebano, who replaced Lucas Piazon, curled an effort just over the bar after fine link-up play between him and Targett before Kevin McDonald’s snapshot from 20 yards flew narrowly wide. The home side were disciplined in defence but still carried a threat on the break as illustrated by substitute Ryan Hedges, who rode a succession of Fulham challenges, to race through on goal but Bettinelli pulled off an excellent reaction save.
The match swung from end-to-end in an incredibly open final ten minutes with Kamara seeing a header palmed away by Andy Davies and McDonald fashioning a fine chance for himself on the turn before shooting over – but the Scottish midfielder was to prove Fulham’s matchwinner after an old-fashioned goalmouth scramble in the second minute of stoppage time. Fredericks’ deep cross was met at the far post by Kebano and, although Davies got a hand to his header, the ball ballooned up and two Barnsley defenders failed to clear it off the line. Kamara’s instinctive volley was parried by the goalkeeper – only for McDonald to prod home from barely a yard out.
The Whites made sure of the three points with a clinical counter-attack in the final minute of added time. Kebano galloped into space down the right and kept his composure to centre for the unmarked Sessegnon to slip his eleventh goal of the season into the unguarded net. This come-from-behind victory meant the Whites had picked up maximum points from their January programme and moved into the top six for the first team this season.
BARNSLEY (4-3-3): Davies; Cavare, Yiadom, Pearson, Lindsay; Mallan, Moncur, G. Gardner; Hamill (Hedges 65), Bradshaw (Pinillos 45), Moore (Thiam 81). Subs (not used): Townsend, McCarthy, Potts, Brown.
BOOKED: Hammill, Cavare, Lindsay.
SENT OFF: Cavare (44).
GOAL: Lindsay (31).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Odoi (Targett 45), Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Norwood, Johansen (Kamara 69); Piazon (Kebano 62), R. Sessegnon; Fonte. Subs (not used): Button, S. Sessegnon, Cisse, de la Torre.
BOOKED: Bettinelli, Johansen.
GOALS: R. Sessegnon (49, 90+5), McDonald (90+2).
REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire).