A defeat at newly promoted Barnsley wasn’t how Scott Parker would have scripted Fulham’s return to the Championship. The sloppy, one-dimensional and slow nature of the Whites’ pedestrian defeat underlined the size of the task ahead of an inexperienced manager as Fulham failed to match the Tykes’ effort and intensity in an underwhelming performance.
Daniel Stendel named six new signings in his first line-up of the season but Barnsley looked well-drilled and a much-more cohesive unit than the Cottagers, who struggled to settle into the contest and failed to beat the hosts’ high press. Stendel’s side were able to play through a below-par Fulham midfield and arguably deserved to be further ahead than Luke Thomas’s predatory finish after dominating the first half.
Where the visitors threatened sporadically, Barnsley carved upon Fulham’s flimsy defence with alarming frequency. Aleksandar Mitrovic barely had a sniff of goal after sending a speculative drive over after linking well with surprise selection Aboubakar Kamara down the right before Ivan Cavaleiro, a disappointment on his debut, fired wastefully over after being played in by Tom Cairney. Fulham’s only other chance fell to Denis Odoi from a free-kick, but his header failed to trouble Sammi Radlinger in the Barnsley goal.
Parker’s side never really got to grips with the energy and zest of Barnsley’s midfield. A surging run from debutante Malik Wilks typified their ambition – the forward sprinted the best part of sixty yards as the Fulham defence backed off – and drove an effort just wide of Marcus Bettinelli’s far post. The Cottagers failed to head that warning. With Maxime Le Marchand lying on his back after falling awkwardly in the centre circle, Joe Bryan looked favourite to clear Mike Bähre’s forward ball but he slipped, allowing Thomas to cut in from the right flank. Instead of advancing towards the ball, Alfie Mawson stood off inviting the shot, which squeezed past a static Bettinelli at the near post. It was a shocking goal to concede – but Barnsley were good value for their advantage.
It could easily have been three before the half hour. Cauley Woodrow, who ran himself into the ground against his former employers, shot over from eight yards out and both Wilks and Mike Bähre sent speculative efforts just off target. Only a splendid last ditch tackle from Bryan prevented Bähre from doubling the lead moments before the break.
Initially, the second period followed a similar pattern. Alex Mowatt’s rasping drive from range barely cleared the crossbar and Bettinelli saved with his feet after substitute Cyrus Christie had presented possession to Wilks inside the box. Fulham gradually worked up a head of steam. Mawson glanced a header agonisingly wide of goal from a free-kick, Johansen fired fractionally wide from just outside the box and a brilliant piece of defending by Mads Andersen preserved Barnsley’s lead after Cairney crept round Radlinger and looked set to level the scores.
Bambo Diaby, who together with Andersen almost totally nullified Mitrovic, rose well to head a corner agonisingly wide and Thomas spurned a glorious chance to add a second when he surged onto a through ball from Bahre and took the ball round Bettinelli but found only the side netting from an acute angle. Woodrow then almost grabbed the goal his lively showing deserved but his acrobatic overhead kick was straight at Bettinelli.
Fulham were only enlivened when Parker send on Knockaert with twenty five minutes to play. The French winger almost had an instant impact when his dipping drive from just outside the area was palmed over the bar by Radlinger. Knockaert then skinned his man and squared for Floyd Ayite, whose goalbound effort was bravely blocked by Andersen. The on-loan Brighton winger then brilliantly fashioned an opening for Kamara, whose tame shot was straight at the goalkeeper from close range.
Barnsley braved a final Fulham flurry in four minutes of added time, but the Reds were fully deserving of the three points and Parker will have plenty to ponder as the Whites look to bounce back against Blackburn at Craven Cottage next weekend.
BARNSLEY (4-2-3-1): Radlinger; Sibbick, Cavaré, Diaby, Andersen; McGeehan, Mowatt; Thomas (Chaplin 86), Wilks (Thiam 90), Bähre; Woodrow (Miller 90). Subs (not used): Collins, Williams, Styles, Halme.
BOOKED: Mowatt, Diaby, Wilks.
GOAL: Thomas (13).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Le Marchand (Christie 33); McDonald, Johansen (Knockaert 65), Cairney; Kamara, Cavaleiro (Ayite 74), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Kebano, de la Torre, Fonte.
BOOKED: Le Marchand.
REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire).