Marco Silva selected an adventurous line-up in a bid to maintain Fulham’s momentum after the international break and his flowing forward line delivered with all four attackers on the scoresheet as the Whites moved to the top of the Championship table after putting four past beleaguered Barnsley at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
A trademark header from Aleksandar Mitrovic – his 21st goal of an already extraordinary season – set the hosts on their way to a comfortable victory. The Serbian striker, still on a high after sending Serbia to the World Cup last weekend, laid on a second for the returning Fabio Carvalho before Neeskens Kebano grabbed the goal another exceptional display merited by lashing in at the far post from Harry Wilson’s cross. The only blot on the copybook was a late consolation for substitute Victor Adeboyejo after former Fulham forward Cauley Woodrow had nodded against the post, but Wilson almost immediately restored Fulham’s three-goal advantage with an assured finish after a sumptuous through ball from Jean Michael Seri.
The winning margin made the victory look routine, but Barnsley – in front of new manager Poya Asbaghi – began brightly and had the better of the early exchanges. The Tykes made light of their perilous league position by taking the game to Fulham and Marek Rodak made a sensational one-handed save to tip Romal Palmer’s rasping drive over the crossbar. Woodrow and the returning Carlton Morris posed problems for the Fulham back line, but the Whites overcame those early jitters to offer a threat of their own.
The hosts looked particularly threatening from set plays with Mitrovic narrowly failing to connect with a Kenny Tete flick on from Harry Wilson’s corner and Michael Hector hammering a drive against the far post after Tim Ream had won a header in the Barnsley box. The goal wasn’t long in coming and Tete, starting his first game since August, produced a peach of a cross from the right which Mitrovic directed into the far corner with ease after outjumping Michael Helik.
Barnsley almost made their task doubly difficult shortly afterwards when an overhit backpass from Callum Styles had Bradley Collins scrambling to clear off the line. Carvalho, a livewire throughout, began and finished the move that put Fulham further clear ten minutes before the break. The talented teenager tiptoed infield from the left flank and made the most of a bit of fortune when his one-two with Mitrovic bounced off Josh Benson to fire between Collins and his near post.
Wilson might have made it three before the break but screwed a shot wide after latching onto a lovely ball from Carvalho. Tom Cairney, who replaced Seri in Silva’s starting line-up, came close to scoring himself just after the break when his shot was deflected against the crossbar after mesmorising approach play from Wilson and Carvalho. Mitrovic nearly headed home at the near post from the ensuing corner, but Collins pulled off a fabulous reaction stop.
Tete then went close at the near post but couldn’t squeeze his shot in after Wilson had wriggled away from two defenders to cut the ball back brilliantly from the byline. Barnsley kept plugging away and Woodrow came closest to bringing the Tykes back into it with a speculative shot from 20 yards, but Rodak palmed away the striker’s volley. Fulham struggled for fluency at times in an attritional second half but they found a third eighteen minutes from time.
Mitrovic weighted a wonderful pass out to Wilson on the right and the Welsh winger’s fabulous cross picked out Kebano perfectly at the far post. The Congolese winger continued his fine goalscoring form with a perfect first-time volley back across the goalkeeper and celebrated with some more fancy footwork with Carvalho in front of the Hammersmith End.
Barnsley kept sending green shirts forward in spite of another setback and they got their reward with twelve minutes to play. Helik produced a terrific cross from the right that Woodrow headed against the far post, with Adeboyejo able to poke the rebound beyond a grounded Rodak to reduce Barnsley’s arrears. But Fulham grabbed a fourth with their very next attack. Seri, fresh off the bench, lifted a sumptuous ball over the Barnsley back line to release Wilson, who stroked him with a modicum of fuss.
Fulham could easily have had more goals with the most glaring miss coming at the death when a rampaging Mitrovic unselfishly squared for Carvalho as he bore down on the goalkeeper, only for the youngster to somehow shoot into the side netting when it seemed easier to score. But Fulham’s potent forward line had fired another ominous warning to the rest of the division – and can look down from the summit for at least a few hours before Bournemouth take on Derby tomorrow.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson (Bryan 85), Hector, Ream; Reed (Seri 80), Cairney (Onomah 80); Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Mawson, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.
GOALS: Mitrovic (24), Carvalho (34), Kebano (72), Wilson (81).
BARNSLEY (4-3-2-1): Collins; Sibbick, Williams, Andersen, Helik; Styles, Benson; Frieser (Iseka 54), Palmer (Moon 75), Morris (Adeboyejo 75); Woodrow. Subs (not used): Walton, Oulare, Vita, Oduor.
GOAL: Adeboyejo (78).
REFEREE: Josh Smith (Bedfordshire).