Match Reaction: Fulham 4-1 Barnsley

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“Mitro’s on fire”, “We’ve got Seri”, “Marco Silva’s black and white army”. All have rung out in chorus across the three open stands of Craven Cottage, but Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” might be more appropriate as this season continues to play out. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s story arc is well-documented, and many a fan is enjoying the return to prominence of Jean Michaël Seri, but there is redemption throughout this squad. From Marek Rodak belatedly claiming the number one jersey, to Tom Cairney’s heroic return to action last month. And so it continued as Barnsley were swept aside, having taken six points from The Whites the last time they shared a division.

Barnsley made it difficult for the first 15 minutes or so. Pressing their hosts and limiting the space required to play through the thirds in the way Fulham have enjoyed recently. There were some nervy moments, not least when Michael Hector lost his bearings and misplaced a pass back to his goalkeeper that went straight out for a corner. But once the ever reliable Mitrovic gave his side the lead, the result never looked in doubt. What a season he is having. He even assisted Fabio Carvalho, via a deflection, to double the lead. And the sheer number of threats Fulham possess makes it a tall order for anyone to escape 90 minutes with anything less than three or four goals conceded. Indeed this was the sixth occasion on which Silva’s side had hit the back of the opposition net on four or more occasions.

But it is not just in attack that the depth is beginning to prove too much for the competition. Tosin Adarabioyo has been a classy figure at the heart of the defence this term. His three match suspension could have caused some unrest, but this was the first occasion on which Fulham have conceded during this absence. Hector may have had a momentary lapse, but that is all it was, or has been during his time as Tosin’s deputy. Tom Cairney, also a stand-in of sorts this term, made only his second start of the campaign, and helped his team take control of the game as the first-half progressed. In a deep role, he started Fulham’s attacks and ensured that Seri’s absence was not felt, matching the Ivorian’s metronomic tendencies in keeping the ball moving, and also providing an additional ability to carry the ball forward on occasion. Having missed so much football over the last twelve months, it is good to see Cairney enjoying his football again.

Such is Seri’s revitalisation, that his introduction from the bench was greeted with rapturous applause. He did not disappoint his adoring crowd. Within moments of entering the action, he had demonstrated his impressive passing range, picking out Harry Wilson with a 40-yard pass to begin another Fulham attack. When that move broke down, he had made up the ground to retrieve the loose ball 30 yards from goal, from where he produced an exquisite chipped pass, once again to the Welsh winger, who gave the assist the finish it deserved. After a failed Premier League season, and two loan moves, Seri is now demonstrating the ability that had the Fulham faithful so excited by his signing in 2018.

Before that Neeskens Kebano had once again taken advantage of what is, somewhat incredibly, his first true run as a starter since arriving in SW6 five years ago. He now has four goals in his last five appearances. Not quite Mitrovic levels, but the form of the likeable Congolese winger continues to bring a smile to Whites’ fans. Kebano is now an established member of a dynamic front three, and as long as he, Wilson and Mitrovic continue in their current vein, records are sure to be broken. Loaned out last season, despite being prominent in the final push to, and then in the playoffs, Kebano is deserving of his role in this team.

Those ongoing revivals were joined by another this weekend, in the shape of Carvalho. The teenager was making his first start since August, following a toe injury, a bout with COVID-19, and waves of suspicion about his commitment to the cause, in no small part fuelled by media speculation that he has refused a contract offer during his spell on the sidelines. And like so many of his colleagues, he set about writing his own redemption story, scoring Fulham’s second goal, and playing a key role in another formidable team performance. It seems no matter what hardships these individuals face, they overcome it with scintillating football performances. Goals are aplenty, clean sheets are too. This is a team that cannot be knocked off its stride as they march towards promotion, and possibly more.

If Carvalho is having second thoughts about his future in West London, he showed no sign of it on Saturday afternoon. He was a constant threat, making intelligent runs, creating space for team mates, and providing the option to break quickly whenever the visitors dared to break forward. Bobby Decordova-Reid has played well in the space behind Fulham’s Serbian talisman, but it is the directness of Carvalho that is so exciting to watch. He is an asset that should continue to be utilised, regardless of his future at the club.

Marco Silva’s man-management looks set to play a significant role in getting the best from the youngsters mercurial talents, but we need only look at the no.9 for evidence of his skills in this area. The man in dugout is another relishing the opportunity to prove wrong any nay-sayers. The Portuguese tactician is taking steps to rebuilding a reputation that secured him three Premier League jobs in quick succession just a few years ago, as he guided The Cottagers to a seventh successive victory. Victories which have come in the wake of a disastrous defeat in Coventry. Yet another example of triumphant resurgence on the banks of the Thames. Silva’s history of short managerial stints, and the shooting star-like form of his teams in English football meant that a step down to the Championship was his best route back to the Premier League. Like members of his team, he is writing his own redemption song, while taking the role of a conductor, as they play theirs. It won’t be the finale, but we certainly look to be heading towards a crescendo of sorts, when the aforementioned former head coach returns to The Cottage on 3rd December. Let’s hope this redemption song only continues to play for current Fulham FC employees.