BARNSLEY will be looking to be more than ‘spectators’ when they host Championship leaders Fulham from 12.30pm tomorrow, says Poya Asbaghi.
The Cottagers are 14 points clear at the top, while the second-bottom Reds are five points off safety.
This week Fulham won 2-0 at home to Blackburn Rovers, one of the clubs chasing them, then 5-1 on Tuesday at mid-table Swansea City who had a man sent off in the first half at 0-0.
They have lost just one of their last 12 league games – winning ten including four in a row – and only two of their last 24. Their goals tally of 89 is the most in the division by 36, while no side has conceded fewer goals.
Since a 4-1 drubbing at Coventry on October 2, Fulham are unbeaten in ten league away games, winning eight including the last five and conceding only five goals. They have the best away record in the Championship and their 44 goals on the road, including 7-0 wins at Blackburn and Reading, is almost double the second highest Cardiff City with 24.
Asbaghi told the Chronicle: “Most teams play Fulham and see it as a bonus game and the expectations aren’t too high. But we have 11 games left and we need to grab points from all the games possible. Fulham is one of them.
“We cannot be spectators and say ‘OK but it was Fulham.’ If we are at 95 per cent, Fulham will win. But we know that on our own ground with our fans, with a 100 per cent performance, Fulham are still a Championship team, they are not in the Premier League yet, and we can collect the necessary points.”
He added: “They are a machine but they can have games when they struggle and it is up to us to make sure this is one of those games. We have to understand Fulham will make chances and, when they do, we have to recover in a good way. They will frustrate us with possession and we have to accept that at times.
“When we defend deep, we cannot get too deep.”
Asbaghi watched from the stands as Barnsley lost 4-1 at Craven Cottage on November 20, having just been announced as head coach.
Caretaker Jo Laumann’s side were dominated and went 3-0 down then Victor Adeboyejo’s reply was cancelled out.
Asked how he has changed as a coach since then, he told the Chronicle: “I learned a lot. The Championship is a special league in the way the teams approach games and it’s really physical.
“You get punished for the smallest mistakes. It’s not always easy to turn games when you are down because teams are really good at defending and not taking risks when they are up. It is still football but I have picked up a lot of details.”
Fulham’s star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has 35 goals this season.
Asbaghi said: “You have to be aware of his skill inside and outside of the box.
“He is scoring a lot of goals but it is not just about him. If you focus on only one or two players, other players will punish you. Other players are just as important.”
Barnsley midfielder Domingos Quina spent the first half of the season on loan to Fulham from Watford.
The previous season that the clubs were in the same division, 2019/20, Fulham were promoted but lost 1-0 at Oakwell on the opening day then were stunned 3-0 at home in February.