Football: Barnsley take Fulham's breadth away

Fulham 1 Riedle 25 Barnsley 3 Symons og 35, Dyer 61, Van Der Laan 67 Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 10,634
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The Independent Online
WHILE THE architect of their dreams was otherwise engaged in Glasgow yesterday, Kevin Keegan's former club wasted a glorious opportunity of moving into serious consideration for Premiership status by slumping to an unexpected, if well-deserved, defeat. In London's only fixture of the day, their promotion rivals Barnsley did nothing to revive any claimed erstwhile imitations of Brazil, relying on brawn and pace to overwhelm their disappointed hosts.

It was not a pretty sight, with the Yorkshiremen eschewing any hint of the samba, but it was certainly effective as they responded to Karlheinz Riedle's 25th-minute opener, at the climax of a frenzied Fulham start, with goals from Kit Symons, in his own net, Bruce Dyer and Robbie Van Der Laan. Never mind the quality, this Barnsley show said, just feel the width.

Poor Fulham. Even with their small galaxy of attacking talents, they had no idea how to succeed in breaking down Barnsley's resolute rearguard, behind which Kevin Miller was in exceptional form. He made three outstanding saves, one almost blindly from a Steve Hayward free-kick which punctured the defensive wall, to break Fulham's heart and expose them as lacking both width and wit when it mattered.

The corner count was 12-3 in the London team's favour, but this reflected desperation and pressure, lacking breadth and penetration, against which Barnsley counter-attacked with swift and bruising precision.

Fulham, however, started as if they intended to kill the match in the opening half-hour. Riedle was at the centre of everything, but every goal attempt he made appeared to hit a body, the side netting or fly high and wide as four chances fell to him in the opening 15 minutes. None, regrettably for Fulham, were put away until the 25th minute, when he finally capitalised on the mounting pressure.

The goal followed a half-cleared corner which was returned by Symons behind Barnsley's back four. Riedle arrived at the far post to bundle the ball home. He should have added further goals , but instead saw Barnsley take over the middle portion of the game.

The equaliser came after 35 minutes when Symons stretched and slashed the ball into his own net in attempting to clear a quick early cross by Craig Hignett. The Barnsley midfielder was outstanding and followed this assist with a spark- ling performance which merited his participation in the winning team.

Fulham had little answer; Lee Clark worked creatively to keep them in the game, but lacking any natural wide players he faced a series of frustrating situations as his forwards kept running into crowded blind alleys before Dyer shot Barnsley ahead on the hour. His goal followed a cross from the left by Matt Appleby and a forward pass by the omnipresent Hignett which Dyer turned in. Fulham did their utmost to respond but were always struggling for space and penetration, and it was little surprise when, from another counter-attacking move, Hignett ran 60 yards and played Van Der Laan into space on the left to thump home the third from 20 yards.

Symons, doing all he could to keep Fulham's hopes alive, made several forays into attack to little avail, and even the towering physical presence of Chris Coleman also added little to Fulham's attack once they decided on an all-out assault in the closing stages. By then Paul Brace-well had made two sub- stitutions, bringing on both Barry Hayles and Paul Pesch- isolido for Riedle and Gus Uhlenbeek. It was a wonder that Geoff Horsfield remained, as not only did he struggle to make any impression on the game but he also risked his and his opponents' limbs with several ill-judged challenges.

As it was, Fulham rarely crossed accurately enough to find his head, and by the time the final whistle sounded most of the home fans in a 10,634 crowd had drifted away to follow the fortunes of Keegan's England at Hampden Park.