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.
On the eve of Fulham’s Championship opening fixture, the HammyEnd team preview the next nine months – looking at who’s going up, who’ll make the play-offs, who could go down and who will star for Fulham
Who’s going up?
Dan Crawford: I would hope that Fulham would be in the picture, but predicting automatic promotion is still a leap of faith without further defensive reinforcements. The Championship has a number of dangerous sides, but you have to look at the likes of Leeds, under the management of Marcelo Bielsa, and West Brom as having the quality to maintain a promotion push over the course of a long season. Neil Warnock’s Cardiff won’t be far away either.
Frankie Taylor: Even if the Fulham back line is porous, you’ve got to think that in Anthony Knockaert, Ivan Cavaleiro and Aleksandar Mitrovic, we’ve got enough fire power to outscore most teams. One thing being seldom said is Fulham should return to a state where they dominate possession thus giving opposition attacks fewer opportunities to score through starvation of the ball alone. Leeds will be up there but Bielsa’s sides tend to run out of gas come the end of the season, are they deep enough? I’m not sure. I think Cardiff are better now than two seasons ago, they’ll be one to worry about whether the football is pretty or not and would be my tip to come back up. Middlesbrough have enough in both boxes but I wonder about their creativity on a consistent enough basis and they may be forced to settle for a playoff spot. Huddersfield still retain a few good players and could be an outside bet for promotion.
Max Cohen: Along with Fulham, I think Leeds United and Bristol City will join us in the Premier League in 2020/21. Leeds will benefit massively from keeping Bielsa, and Bristol City being led by Lee Johnson could be a decent shout to sneak up via the play-offs.
Alan Drewett: As always, the Championship is going to be very competitive and there will be a lot of clubs who consider themselves serious prospects for automatic promotion. I do think Leeds will recover from the disappointment of last season and earn promotion, but I’d back West Brom to win the league. I think the appointment of Slaven Bilic could really make the difference between promotion and more heartbreak for the Baggies.
Who’s going down?
Dan Crawford: I think it might be tricky for Charlton to survive, with the turbulence of a toxic boardroom situation, loss of key players and a lack of additions threatening to undermine an excellent young manager in Lee Bowyer. You’d worry about whether Luton have the quality to survive at a higher level, too, whilst the likes of Birmingham and Reading might be worried as well.
Frankie Taylor: I have Charlton-supporting relatives and I live down the road from the training ground so I keep an eye on their goings on. Most hoped promotion would mean the club would finally change hands but, alas, Roland Duchatelet not only remains owner but continues to cut finances with Charlton losing out on players to League One sides. They have a lot of fight and they will work, but they will not have the ability. Luton are much the same, will be an awkward game and a real battle, but do they have the quality over 46 games? I do think there’ll be a ‘shock.’ Birmingham and Reading could both be looking over their shoulder with Wigan potentially due a return to League One.
Max Cohen: I think Barnsley, Reading, and Blackburn could all be in a massive struggle against relegation and could be going down. Reading’s signing of Charlie Adam just about sealed it for me!
Alan Drewett: There are many teams who could struggle this season but I am going for Reading, Birmingham and Millwall. The loss of Che Adams and Gary Monk would have hurt Birmingham as both were pivotal in the Blues’ relative success last season. I think it is just a matter of time before Reading go down to League One, to be honest. They have not been the same team since they lost to Huddersfield in the play-off final three years ago.
Who do you fancy for the play-offs?
Dan Crawford: Bristol City have been bubbling around the play-off spots for the last couple of years. They have a progressive manager in Lee Johnson, play some excellent football and have made some solid additions over the summer, including acquiring the former Fulham defender Tomas Kalas. They have a method of developing excellent young talent too – and should certainly be in the shout come the end of the season.
Frankie Taylor: Some good clubs are going to miss out, I do think Fulham and Cardiff return to the Premier League through the automatic and if that’s correct, you’ve got four spots between the likes of Derby, Middlesbrough, Leeds, West Bromwich Albion, Huddersfield and Stoke. Brentford are could perhaps be deemed as outsiders with the current retaining of Neal Maupay (and more shockingly Said Benrahma) plus adding Christian Norgaard and Pontus Jansson gives them serious strength allover the pitch strength.
Max Cohen: I reckon Derby, Middlesbrough, Bristol City, and West Brom will battle it out in the play-offs, with the Robins emerging victorious at Wembley.
Alan Drewett: I’ll go for Cardiff, Derby, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough. I’d pick Cardiff to win promotion. They have kept largely the same squad, with a couple of additions, and love him or loathe him, Neil Warnock has an astonishing promotion record.
Where will Fulham finish?
Dan Crawford: I’ll go for the top six. There are still concerns about our defence, especially as no new arrivals have come in over the season, and there’s a nagging doubt about whether Scott Parker has the tactical acumen to prosper in the Championship. But holding on to Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic is huge and adding Knockaert and Cavaleiro makes the Fulham front three look a mouthwatering prospect. We do appear in danger of becoming a bit of Keegan side, which will be entertaining at the very least.
Frankie Taylor: I do think the title is there to be won. Ultimately, I’ll accept second or a playoff promotion but I’m not sure I can see beyond the spine of Alfie Mawson, Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic with a sprinkling of Joe Bryan, Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro and think that Scott Parker has to push for the title.
Max Cohen: Fulham will finish second and enjoy the sweet salvation of automatic promotion, luckily avoiding the play-off nerves of years past. For me, the strikeforce of Mitro, Cavaleiro, and Knockaert is miles above Championship quality and will be our biggest asset. Defence is shaky by Premier League standards but should do a job in the second tier, but holding midfield is a big area of concern we need to address if we do want to storm the league and finish top two.
Alan Drewett: I’m predicting a 12th placed finish. The last twelve months have been bitterly disappointing with errors made from top to bottom. I don’t think we have done enough in the transfer window as of yet and I worry about our defence. It’s the same defence that was on the end of a heavy defeat most weeks last season. I would have also liked to have seen additions made to the centre of the midfield, which looks a bit threadbare if we lose one of our three key performers.
Who will be our player of the season?
Dan Crawford: Mitrovic was simply unplayable during his last spell in the Championship and was arguably the difference between promotion and missing out. No Championship defender will relish the contest against such a physical and imposing number nine and Mitrovic should be a potent goal threat. I’ll also be hoping that Cairney can recover the sort of form that fired Fulham’s promotion push.
Frankie Taylor: Tom Cairney will undoubtedly be the heartbeat of our possession play and has shown himself to be one of the best playmakers to play in the division. Knockaert has already been a Championship Player of the Year but, Aleksandar Mitrovic is 41 games and 27 goals away from hitting playing 100 games and scoring 50 goals for Fulham, if he does that, Fulham will be promotion. Of course predicting the club Player of the Season is more difficult, if Alfie Mawson stays fit, maybe he can follow in Tim Ream’s footsteps by being player of the season at centre back.
Max Cohen: Aleksandar Mitrovic will be player of the year on the back of a 25 goal-plus season. Back in 2017/18, he destroyed Championship defences with ease – think Richard Stearman cowering in fear while Mitro flexed his muscles in glee. And that was in the span of less than 20 matches, in a totally new team, without the benefit of a full preseason. Imagine what he can do in 46 matches.
Alan Drewett: I think if Cairney stays fit, he is the best midfielder in the division. He is vital to our style of football and can control the game with ease. He has three excellent attackers in front of him and they will no doubt thrive from his assists.
Who will be our young player of the year?
Dan Crawford: There are a number of candidates here. Steven Sessegnon has a real opportunity to nail down a spot at right back, whilst Luca de la Torre could become Cairney’s understudy in the number 10 role. I’m also hoping for a big season from Matt O’Riley, whose talent deserves far more than the seven senior games he has played to date. He’s been one of the stars for Fulham’s under-23 side in recent years and has a chance to fill in for the senior side’s midfield triumvirate over the course of the season. Hopefully, his class will help O’Riley stake a claim for a regular spot.
Frankie Taylor: Steven Sessegnon has a position to win and is most likely to nail down a starting position. I still get irritated that Luca de La Torre was legitimately man of the match against Millwall in the League Cup last season and didn’t play a single minute again for the first team. I think they both have the best opportunities to contribute on a consistent basis but would edge it towards Steven Sessegnon.
Max Cohen: I’ll choose American midfielder Luca de la Torre, who I think is getting overlooked a bit this summer by fans clamouring for Matt O’Riley’s introduction. With our central midfield options looking weak, I would expect de la Torre to play a large role. Stuart Gray certainly agrees, and even said during a recent interview that he considers the American one of Fulham’s finest prospects, along with Steven Sessegnon.
Alan Drewett: I’m going for Steven Sessegnon. I think this could be his breakthrough season and he has all the qualities to become an integral part of our back four. Steven has been very patient – he could have had a run last season – and he is clearly highly rated at Motspur Park. I hope he gets his chance and, if he does, I’m sure he will take it.
What are you most looking forward to this season?
Dan Crawford: It seems strange to pinpoint a day right at the end of the season at this point, but the trip to Wigan will be fantastic. It’s a terrific away day, with some great places to visit, and will be made all the better if there’s something riding on the game.
Frankie Taylor: I know this might not age well, but from a fantasy point of view, it’d be great to see Fulham hold up the Championship trophy at Craven Cottage. I always enjoy the London derbies but particularly under the floodlights. Queens Park Rangers, Brentford, Millwall and Charlton are four fun games to look forward to this season.
Max Cohen: The best thing about being back in the Championship is the authenticity. No clueless pundits, no fake fans, and no more being subject to ridicule from supporters of ‘big clubs.’ We’re back in the most exciting league in the world, and pencil in Luton away on Boxing Day as a top day out.
Alan Drewett: This is a good question. It would have to be the local derbies. Playing QPR and Brentford adds extra needle to a long and exhausting season and the games are always full of goals and excitement. It is always good to get one over on your neighbours as well.
A season that started so promisingly, with an England call-up, ended with him being dropped, having knee surgery and suffering relegation. The Fulham academy graduate wants to put all these problems behind him and help the Whites back to the top flight.
Football can be a cruel game. I do not think anyone enjoyed last season and it is sad, really, because we came into the league with a lot of hope and momentum. I never want to experience that again.
It was obviously tough to take when the club signed two goalkeepers last summer. It was hard because I feel like I had done enough to keep my spot and I am sure there were a lot of lads who felt the same as I did after doing well in the Championship.
I got into the team and when I look back now would I have done anything differently? Probably not. I do not feel like I deserved to get pulled out of the team. I got some criticism for the amount of goals we conceded but as the season went on it was plain and clear that you could have had David De Gea and Manuel Neuer, or both of them at the same time, and we still would have conceded goals.
I went and saw Slav. He was a good person. He said he did not think I had been playing that badly but he wanted to try and get a reaction from the team after three or four defeats. Did I feel it was unfair at the time? Yeah, of course I did. Did I feel it was unfair I did not get a chance under Claudio Ranieri? Yeah, of course I did.
But everything happens for a reason and it is in the past now. I am just looking forward to this season and trying to get back to the Premier League where we should be.
Bettinelli has been reinstated as the club’s number one by Scott Parker, whom he played with at Craven Cottage, and he is positively buoyant about being given the new manager’s backing.
I have been crying out for a season like this since 2014-15. This will be the first time I have ever started the first game of the season. It is nice to know Scotty believes in me. As soon as Scotty took over last season you could feel a change at the club. There is a different feeling of pride now and wanting to win games like the year we went up. For a long time this club has had this sloppy mentality and last season it all kind of fell apart. It is a different feeling and a different mentality in the dressing room now.
Fulham’s quest for an immediate return to the Premier League begins against newly-promoted Barnsley tomorrow afternoon. Scott Parker will be keen to lay down a marker early in the Championship season, but the Whites will face a tough test against the Tykes, whose promotion from League One last year was built upon some formidable home form.
Barnsley have one of the most impressive young managers in the game with Daniel Stendel, who has quickly imposed an attacking and progressive style of football on his charges. They might have lost four of the back five that secured a return to the Championship last season but their pre-season performances have been more promising than the results suggested, especially when they more than matched Sheffield United last weekend in what became an unflattering 4-1 defeat. Stendel has recruited heavily from overseas, bringing in Danish defender Mads Anderson, Senegalese centre half Bambo Diaby and Austrian goalkeeper Samuel Radlinger amongst others, as he prepares for a return to the Championship.
Barnsley’s biggest headache on the eve of their opener comes in the shape of striker Kieffer Moore. The 6ft 5in forward, earmarked as a key man ahead of the campaign, has bullied defences throughout his career – emerging through non-league football – and scored 17 goals in 31 appearances in League One last season. Barnsley have reportedly accepted a £4m offer from Wigan for Moore this afternoon and he will play no part in tomorrow’s fixture. That leaves Fulham having to handle their former forward Cauley Woodrow, who enjoyed his own purple patch following his permanent move to Oakwell last year, and will be eager to prove a point after not getting much of a look in under Slavisa Jokanovic. You wouldn’t bet against him finding the net.
Woodrow will fancy continuing his fine goalscoring form – he notched 19 in 35 appearances for Barnsley last season – against a Fulham defence that hasn’t been strengthened over the summer. Doubts remain about how miserly a back four that was brutally found out at Premier League level will prove in the Championship, especially as time has ticked on since Tim Ream’s outstanding displays two years ago. It appears as though Alfie Mawson has shaken off a knee injury that worried us all when he limped off against West Ham last weekend, although the identity of who will partner the former Swansea defender at the heart of the back four remains a subject for debate. Ream has only just returned to training following international duty, so Maxime Le Marchand could come in but the Frenchman will need to reduce the number of errors that undermined his first season in Fulham colours.
It looks as if Parker will try to revert to the style that Jokanovic’s side employed during their rise from the Championship. A possession-based, assertive brand of football will suit the likes of Stefan Johansen, back from a successful loan spell with West Brom, and Tom Cairney, who will prove critical as the creative hub in Fulham’s midfield. There may be doubts over the mobility of Kevin McDonald, who looked a little sluggish in a deeper midfield role in pre-season, but Fulham’s recruitment of two top-class wingers in Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro, who have proved devastating in this division in recent seasons, should provide excellent service to Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has to be the league’s most potent striker.
Getting off to a good start in a league that is as gruelling as the Championship is crucial. Both Parker and captain Cairney have already warned their side that Barnsley will likely fly out of the gate in a bid to surprise Fulham and the Londoners could well have a target on their backs in the early weeks of the season. The manager’s relative inexperience might be a concern, especially as we have yet to see whether he has the tactical flexibility to outwit opponents on a consistent basis, but the mood in the camp seems positive and a rare away win would get the Whites off to a great start.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon, Bryan, Mawson, Le Marchand; McDonald, Johansen, Cairney; Cavaleiro, Knockaert, Mitrovic. Subs: Rodak, Christie, Odoi, O’Riley, Kebano, Kamara, Fonte.
Fulham have this afternoon confirmed the signing of Exeter City forward Jay Stansfield for an undisclosed fee.
The 16 year-old starred for Exeter’s Under 18 side last season as the Grecians reached the final of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup and finished third in the south division last term. Stansfield, who will feature for Fulham’s under 18 side during the forthcoming campaign, has already flown to Switzerland to represent his new club in the FC Aesch International Tournament this weekend.
In a statement following the news, Exeter revealed their unhappiness that one of their prized assets was moving on for below what their valuation. City chairman Julian Tagg said:
“While Fulham have payed above what we would likely to get in an arbitration fee from the Professional Football Compensation Committee and therefore it was sensible for the club to accept, the ability for football clubs, with much bigger resources at their disposal, to take young players from successful academies like Exeter City at a fraction of the cost of which they are valued, is a problem that football still needs to solve.
“We, like many clubs, feel the Elite Performance Player Plan’s rules – which fix transfer fees between academies – is heavily weighted in favour of sides higher up the football pyramid and ignores clubs like Exeter City, which do a tremendous job in producing talented young footballers.
“We, of course, must praise the fine work of all of our staff at Exeter City Academy who continue to work tirelessly to develop the next group of excellent footballers and well-rounded young men.
“However, those efforts are being undermined by the current system in place and we will continue to work with the Football League to find a solution to this. And that is not just for our academy, but for all those coaches and staff around Leagues One and Two, who continue to work hard to produce the next generation of talented footballers for the English game.
“The club would like to place on record its thanks to Jay and his family for their hard-work and dedication to Exeter City and we wish them all the very best for the future.
“Every effort was made to keep Jay at the club, but our ethos has always been to put the player’s wishes first and the move to a category one club in Fulham was what was felt best for Jay, by both him and his family, and we look forward to following his continued success in the game.”
Stansfield is the eldest son of the former Exeter, Hereford and Yeovil striker Adam, who sadly died of cancer aged just 31.