Fulham get an early opportunity to put the disappointment of drawing with Millwall, offside decisions and the failure to move in front of Leeds behind them when bottom of the table Barnsley visit Craven Cottage tomorrow afternoon. The Whites will have been dismayed by their underwhelming performance at the Den on Wednesday night but in truth it could have been a lot worse for Scott Parker’s side, given that Millwall might have nicked what became an even contest after Jon Dadi Bodvarsson’s controversial equaliser.
Parker might have cause to reflect on his own decisions after his side failed to seize the advantage in the Championship’s automatic promotion race. It may well be that Kevin McDonald, restored to the starting line-up to such devastating affect in recent weeks, might not be able to start three games in seven days any more but would this game have been a more suitable one for him to miss. Harry Arter’s display in south east London was rusty at best and his petulance towards the end reminded me of the ill-discipline that saw him inexcusably sent off at Cardiff earlier in the season. The Whites’ badly missed some ballast at the base of the midfield.
Parker’s plumping for Aboubakar Kamara didn’t really come off either. The Frenchman was subdued and lethargic for much of the match. Ivan Cavaleiro impressed off the bench – but his arrival came much too late as Fulham seemed powerless to shift the tempo of a contest that suited the hosts far more than them. Congolese winger Neeskens Kebano was barely given any time at all to turn things round, but almost managed to steal three points with an athletic header from a late corner that rattled the crossbar and ran away to safety. There’s a case for Kebano, always a livewire, to get a little more match action.
The biggest disappointment of this week arguably came off the pitch with the news that Terence Kongolo will miss the remainder of the season having sustained a serious foot injury in the final ten minutes at Blackburn. Kongolo’s presence in the squad was a huge boost to Fulham’s promotion prospects with depth in central defence severely lacking previously. Parker might well be left depending on Tim Ream and the imperious Michael Hector for the remainder of the season, given that Alfie Mawson has just undergone knee surgery. There’s certainly little margin for error at the back now.
Barnsley visit the Cottage in a whole heap of trouble at the foot of the table. That sunny opening afternoon when the Tykes were good value for a narrow win at Oakwell seems an awful long time ago. They have managed just three wins in their subsequent 31 league games – and are already nine points from safety. Gerhard Struber had initially overseen an upturn in form when he arrived in south Yorkshire but Tuesday’s deflating defeat by Birmingham City put another dent in a young side’s already fragile confidence.
Barnsley have a track record of springing surprises against the top sides this term. They have already held leaders West Brom to two draws and former Fulham striker Cauley Woodrow, who has scored nine times in 21 appearances so far this term, would like nothing better to shine on his old stomping ground. There’s always been the suspicion that Woodrow, who broke into the Fulham side as a teenager with the Whites battling against the drop from the Premier League, didn’t get a fair crack of the whip under Slavisa Jokanovic – and he’s been in great goalscoring form from the moment he made the move to Oakwell.
He could be paired with former Portsmouth striker Conor Chaplin in attack if Struber decides to go for broke in search of another shock success. It’s not as if the Tykes don’t have the talent to pose as many problems as Storm Dennis tomorrow afternoon. Alex Mowatt has been an outstanding performer at this level for many years, whilst Mike Bahre ran the show when Barnsley embarrassed Parker and Fulham on the first day of the season. Struber will need to shuffle his pack with injuries and fitness issues robbing him of the services of defender Mads Andersen, goalkeeper Sami Radlinger and midfielder Marcel Ritzmaier. It will be a tall order for them to keep Fulham’s possession-based football at bay for another ninety minutes.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Hector, Ream; McDonald, Onomah, Cairney; Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs: Bettinelli, Christie, S. Sessegnon, Johansen, Knockaert, Kebano, Kamara.