It had to happen, didn’t it? The returning Cauley Woodrow wrecked Fulham’s ambition of overhauling Leeds with a double as bottom of the league Barnsley produced a shock to rival their opening day win over the Whites on a wet and windy afternoon at Craven Cottage.
Woodrow, who burst onto the scene as a teenage goalscorer when Fulham were battling against relegation from the top flight, never really got a fair crack of the whip after scoring a hat-trick in front of new boss Slavisa Jokanovic when the Serbian took over from Kit Symons. He has hardly stopped scoring since moving to Oakwell last year and his brace helped the Tykes to their first win at Craven Cottage in more than two decades.
Marek Rodak, who has been outstanding in the Fulham goal since replacing Marcus Bettinelli earlier this season, had a wretched afternoon. He gave away an early penalty after hauling down Jacob Brown having spilled a loose ball as he was challenged him in the box and then dashed disastrously from his line in pursuit of Woodrow’s through ball, miss it and allow Brown to loft home a critical second. Maybe the Slovakian’s brain was scrambling by the concession of such a needless penalty – but it was a real rush of blood.
Woodrow wrapped a convincing win for Gerhard Struber’s side with just over ten minutes to play. The former England under 21 international breezed past Michael Hector and snuck a low shot into the far corner from an exceptionally tight angle – sparking delirium amongst the travelling fans. It was impossible to argue that Barnsley didn’t deserve it. This was a fluke – they outfought, outpassed and outplayed a fragile Fulham side from the outset.
Parker made four changes from the midweek draw at Millwall, but his team never got going. They were lethargic in comparison to their visitors, who tore into every challenge and, unlike many visitors to the Cottage this season, showed ambition and adventure in possession. Both Woodrow and Conor Chaplin, whose goalscoring exploits have been a rare bright in Barnsley’s season, spurned decent opportunities in the early exchanges before Rodak fielded a rather weak effort from Chaplin after Luke Thomas had opened up the Fulham defence.
The penalty, which Rodak fiercely disputed, set Fulham back but it shouldn’t have been such a bodyblow against a side low on confidence. The hosts’ first half was hopelessly error-strewn and, even though they saw more of the ball, there was little that hurt Barnsley. Josh Onomah and Ivan Caveleiro had wild shots from distance and replacement goalkeeper Brad Collins was only seriously tested in stoppage time by a Tom Cairney daisycutter that was drilled straight at him.
Fulham’s only real period of any pressure came immediately after the interval. Collins made a smart stop as Aleksandar Mitrovic, horribly isolated for much of the afternoon swivelled into space inside the box before a goalmouth scramble presented openings to Kevin McDonald and Onomah in quick succession. But the barrage of home attacks never really materialised – and Fulham failed to heed a warning when Mike Bahre’s through ball almost reached Chaplin, only for Rodak to smother it.
Perhaps that was why the Slovian goalkeeper inexplicably charged off his line leaving himself so stranded by Brown’s lofted finish. That goal sparked Parker into life on the touchline – though the Fulham manager’s decision to withdraw Cairney, the likeliest source of a killer pass, in favour of Harry Arter was baffling with Fulham needing to make more of the running. Dropping Bobby Decordova-Reid robbed the Whites of real dynamism – and it was asking too much for him to turn the tide as a substitute.
Fulham switched to a back three but that only served to unbalance them further as Barnsley threatened to run riot. Woodrow lashed a low drive inches wide of the far post and then a long kick from Collins ran all the way through to Chaplin, but the former Portsmouth striker failed to hit the target. Belatedly, the hosts rallied as Cavaleiro flashed a volley fractionally wide before Collins made excellent stops to thwart Decordova-Reid and Kamara, before Woodrow grabbed his second to put the contest to bed.
A miserable day for the home fans was summed up in the final ten minutes. Mitrovic connected with a brilliant run and cross down the left from Kamara but could only head straight at Collins from six yards out. Onomah was twice denied a consolation by two superb saves from the Barnsley goalkeeper in the space of a stoppage time minute. He turned aside a curler that was heading for the far corner before producing an even finer save to tip a venomous strike onto the crossbar – underlining that it wouldn’t be Fulham’s day.
Parker now has a serious job to do in making sure that this was an aberration rather than the beginning of the end of Fulham’s push for an automatic promotion place. Two testing trips to Derby and Bristol City will tell us whether the Whites still have the stomach for the fight. On this evidence, that has to be called into question.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; S. Sessegnon (Kamara 65), Bryan, Hector, Ream; McDonald (Decordova-Reid 53), Onomah, Cairney (Arter 54); Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Odoi, Christie, Johansen.
BARNSLEY (4-1-2-1-2): Collins; Ludewig, Solbaeur, Halmo, J. Williams; Mowatt; Thomas (Dougall 81), Baehre; Woodrow (Marsh 90); Chaplin (Schmidt 86), Brown. Subs (not used): B. Williams, Walton, Oduor, Simoes.
GOALS: Woodrow (pen 24, 79), Brown (51).
REFEREE: James Linington (Newport).