Written by Ian Hope @halftimepiesite
August seemed a very long time ago as we battled through Storm Dennis and tube station closures at Putney on a wet February afternoon to watch Barnsley take on third placed Fulham at Craven Cottage. Back on the first day of the season, the sun shone as we sat in the East Stand lower in shorts and t-shirts as Luke Thomas scored the winner against Fulham and was nearly hit by a pie thrown from the stand by jubilant reds fans.
A first day win for a new look reds line up against a premier league squad in relegated Fulham had everyone drooling and optimistically thinking of what the season lay ahead. Fast forward to February and the reds sit bottom of the Championship table and rapidly heading back to League One. Looking on social media and fans forums and there is very little optimism amongst reds fans pointing the finger at the board, some players and sometimes the manager, Gerhard Struber blaming all and sundry for this seasons mess.
Saturday was a nailed on home win. The odds stacked heavily in the Londoners favour as they had eyes on an automatic promotion place in the table with the reds suffering a hellish January which saw them go from only a point away from safety to one nail already in the coffin. How wrong we all were.
Barnsley coped better with the wintry conditions as the rain blew across the Thames and onto the pitch due to one whole side of the ground being demolished whilst Craven Cottage is being redeveloped. Brad Collins hardly had a save to make all first half as the reds settled into their game from the first whistle.
Barnsley never let Fulham get into their stride chasing down the hosts at every opportunity sometimes with two or three red shirts swarming all over the men in white similar to that reverse fixture in August. With Fulham trying to play long balls out to the wings but only succeeding in floating the ball into the stands Fulham had to go through the middle but were met by a red wall.
Defensively Barnsley looked comfortable with the individual errors that have plagued them all season nowhere to be seen even playing in strong winds. Halme and Sollbauer were composed throughout keeping things simple with Williams and Ludewig doing a good job of keeping the likes of Knockaert and Cavalerio quiet on the wings. Collins barely had a save to make and was comfortable in possession.
Barnsley’s midfield worked tirelessly to harass Fulham and the likes of Mowatt, Thomas and Bahre broke most things up and placed some neat passes to get the reds attacking with the pace of Brown, Chaplain and Woodrow. The first half was a scrappy affair but Barnsley were comfortable. Things got better when Fulham’s goalkeeper, Rodak made a mess of a bouncing ball and pulled Brown down in the box. Woodrow calmly did the business slotting the penalty away much to the delight of the 1300 travelling fans. Deep down most probably thought this would spark Fulham into life but that failed to materialise and the away end continued to bounce until half time.
Within the first two minutes of the second half Fulham created more clear cut chances than in the whole of the first 45 with Collins making a double save, the best with his feet. The Fulham onslaught never materialised and Barnsley played the counter attack superbly in the second half picking Fulham off at every opportunity. Time and again the reds broke mixing up short passing in midfield with longer balls for the ever willing Brown and Chaplain to chase. Fulham defensively couldn’t cope on a wet pitch with players running at them. Assisted by Woodrow, Barnsley had a front three that caused endless problems for the hosts. With the midfield working tirelessly in winning the ball back, the Tykes controlled the game.
If the away fans were enjoying being one goal up, they were in wonderland when Brown chased a long ball and lobbed the onrushing Rodak to put the ball into an empty net. The ball seemed to take an eternity to bounce over the line from behind the goal but cue bedlam in the away end as Brown stood with arms aloft and the scoreboard showing 0-2.
Still everyone expected a reaction from Fulham. Scott Parker tried shuffling his pack with several substitutions bringing more offensive minded players on but nothing changed. Mitrovic got nothing out of the Barnsley defence and even Tom Cairney couldn’t open up the reds defence. Time and again the reds swarmed forward having so much space in the channels. Chaplain wasted two great chances in quick succession and with over twenty minutes left you always wondered if the reds would press the self destruct button.
Individual errors never materialised. Collins was well protected but handled well when needed. The icing on the cake came when Woodrow capped a man of the match performance scoring his second from a tight angle to send the away fans into dreamland.
Woodrow was imperious on his return to his old stomping ground. Holding the ball up well, good touch, great distribution and a eye for goal he had everything a real talisman performance. Jacob Brown put in a very mature performance too. He appears to be growing into a decent championship player and a real threat in the final third.
Despite some late flurries from the home side, the result was never in doubt. In fact, the scoreline could and should have been bigger as the reds countered so well in the second half.
A fearless performance that seemed to have a feel that the players had no pressure. Whether this game was a free hit, a game they were never expected to win so went out without fear who knows? This was not a performance from a team who looked rooted to the bottom of the table and sinking fast.
Whilst one game does not fix things, it shows there is still fight and belief in the squad. With games to come against sides around the reds, anything can happen.
A lot of praise goes to the away following who travelled in great numbers and who never stopped getting behind the team. The chants of “Barnsley are going down with a billion in the bank” were soon replaced by chants of staying up but all game the back of the away bounced to song after song. It certainly was a good day down by the Thames singing in the rain.