Barnsley's young defence has been backed to deal with Fulham’s big name attack when the Championship season gets underway at Oakwell tomorrow. 

Serbia international striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored 11 Premier League goals last season after signing for £22million, is likely to be flanked by Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro who have  recently helped Brighton and Wolves to the Premier League respectively. 

Fulham also have England under 21s star Ryan Sessegnon as well as £5million signing Aboubakar Kamara.  Barnsley’s defence in their final pre-season game – a 4-1 loss to Sheffield United – saw 21-year-old centre-backs Mads Andersen and Bambo Diaby play between 20-year-old full-backs Ben Williams and Toby Sibbick. 

Asked how he thinks that defence will deal with the prospect of facing Fulham’s attack, coach Dale Tonge said: “I would back them to thrive on it. Why not? You are in football to play against the best players. It can be frightening or exciting. It’s a great opportunity for our players to show where they are and what level they are at. 

“We feel like that they are good enough to perform at this level and there’s no bigger test than the first game with the likes of Mitrovic, Kamara, Knockaert and Cavaleiro. It’s really exciting for the squad and the club to have players like that coming here.

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“Fulham are an ex-Premier League team with some fantastic players with a lot of quality. We feel we have enough to hurt them and we just need to implement our gameplan.” 

Head coach Daniel Stendel has said the side who played in the 4-1 loss to Sheffield United in the final pre-season game on Saturday would be ‘very close’ to tomorrow’s starting 11. Stendel told the Chronicle: “Fulham is a Championship club but normally a Premier League club. We need to show that we have learned very fast from the Sheffield United game.”

Barnsley will be hoping to extend their unbeaten home run in league games to 28, having gone through a season unbeaten for the first time since 1967/68 while their last loss at Oakwell was to Millwall in March last year. A draw or win tomorrow would mean they have equalled the run in the 1938/39 season, while the only longer sequence was between 1934 and 1935 when the Reds did not lose at Oakwell in 36 league fixtures. 

Fulham reached the Premier League last year then spent more than £100m – a record for a newly-promoted club – but were relegated in 19th place, ten points off safety, while conceding the most goals in the division with 81. Having sacked both Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri last season, former England captain Scott Parker has been given his first managerial job.

Fulham are yet to spend any money on transfer fees this summer but have loaned in forwards with experience of promotion in Knockaert and Cavaleiro. While some of last summer’s big money arrivals have left the club, such as Jean Michael Seri and Andre Zambo Anguissa, who were brought in for £50million combined, they still have former Barnsley captain Alfie Mawson.

He joined for £15million before suffering a second successive relegation after also going down with Swansea City who signed him from Barnsley in August 2016.  Mawson – who was called up for an England squad last year – played 64 games for the Reds, scoring nine goals.  He limped out of Fulham’s friendly against West Ham United on Saturday and is a doubt for tomorrow’s game. 

While Mawson is an ex-Barnsley player, tomorrow’s home side have a host of squad members with connections to Fulham.  Cauley Woodrow spent eight years with the London club who sold him to Barnsley in January following a loan, while Cameron McGeehan was sold by the Cottagers to Chelsea for £80,000 aged ten.

Fulham also released Jordan Green as a teenager and rejected Toby Sibbick after a trial.  Fulham have a good recent record against Barnsley, doing the double in both the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons including 4-2 and 3-1 successes at Oakwell, after seven successive winless trips there. Overall, the clubs have met 80 times with the Cottagers winning 26 and the Reds 31.