Fulham’s Under 23s began their Premier League 2 season with an encouraging display and an entertaining draw against Manchester United at Motspur Park last night.
Peter Grant’s side commendable resilience to come from behind twice to claim a point against the Red Devils after conceding goals to Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong. The young Whites were indebted to their centre back partnership with set piece equalisers arriving courtesy of Arron Davies and Rob Atkinson. The draw was the least the home side deserved for an enterprising display full of ambition and creativity, sparked by the energy and drive of Tyrese Francois in central midfield.
Cameron Thompson, deployed on the left wing in a fluid 4-3-3 that mirrored Slavisa Jokanovic’s preferred system, had Fulham’s first sight of goal but couldn’t connect with Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson’s dangerous cross before Cauley Woodrow, who endured a frustrating evening in front of goal, wasted a good opportunity after a fine through ball from Matt O’Riley. United had dominated possession and gradually began to create chances of their own with Magnus Norman saving stubbornly from George Tanner at his near post.
Thompson did saw a shot well blocked by united’s Ro-Shaun Williams before the visitors broke swiftly, but James Wilson’s low cross didn’t find a team-mate. Estonian international midfielder Mathias Kait then drilled a shot fractionally wide of far post midway through the first period, but it was United who broke the deadlock. A neat passing move found Tanner out in space on the right flank and the full-back was afforded far too much time to cross. Angel Gomes drifted between Atkinson and Davies to direct a firm header past the helpless Norman.
The visitors, who despite their ample resources were surprisingly relegated last season, then had chances to double their lead before half-time. Former Fulham forward DJ Buffonge saw his effort bravely blocked by Atkinson and Davies then bravely threw himself in front of a Gomes effort to thwart further danger. United were to pay for those misses four minutes before the break when O’Riley’s deep free kick was turned home at the far post by Davies.
The equaliser gave Fulham a boost at the start of the second half. United keeper Kieran O’Hara pulled off a brilliant save from Woodrow’s improvised flick at his near post and Thornsteinsson then saw a strong penalty shout waved away by the referee. Instead, it was the Red Devils who went ahead again – hitting Fulham on the break. A lovely move involving Buffonge and Gomes finished with Belgian winger Chong drilling an excellent finish past Norman.
Defeat would have been harsh on the hosts and, to their credit, Fulham never gave up. They grabbed a deserved second equaliser from another O’Riley set play with Atkinson able to punish a poor clearance from Williams with a fine header. The Whites pushed hard for a third in the closing stages of an intriguing contest, but both sides ultimately had to be content with a point.
FULHAM U23s (4-3-3): Norman; Jenz, Mundle-Smith, Atkinson, Davies; Kait, Francois, O’Riley; Thornsteinsson, Thompson (Harris 73), Woodrow. Subs (not used): Stahl, Opoku, Drameh, Carvalho.
GOALS: Davies (41), Atkinson (80).
MANCHESTER UNITED U23s (4-2-3-1): O’Hara; Tanner, O’Connor, Williams, Garner; Poole, Hamilton; Chong, Gomes (Dearnley 88), Buffonge (Whelan 88); Wilson (Bohul 45). Subs (not used): Warren, Forstieck.
GOALS: Gomes (28), Chong (61).
Kevin McDonald says Fulham are ready to ‘give it a right old blast’ in the Premier League this season after seeing the club supplement their promotion-winning squad with new signings during a busy summer transfer window.
The Scottish international insists that the Whites aren’t just looking to survive but are determined to prove they belong in English football’s top flight. Fulham spent around £120m on twelve new signings over the summer – including five arrivals during a busy transfer deadline day – and McDonald told the Evening Standard that reflects the ambition at Craven Cottage.
We are going to give it a right old blast this season. We are not here to make up the numbers. We are here to prove to everyone what we can do, prove that this is where the club belongs. The owners have invested money wisely and bought some really good players. That can only benefit the team.
The former Wolves and Burnley midfielder was quick to insist that the squad themselves are remaining grounded ahead of the start of the new campaign, acutely aware of the big step up in quality from the Championship.
People are seeing all these big names coming in and the money we are spending so it is understandable that from the outside expectation levels have been raised. But we are a level-headed group of players and we know where we stand. We would be naive to start looking above to the top half of the table. First and foremost we have got to establish ourselves as a Premier League team. Of course we want to finish as high as we can but we know it is going to be a long, hard season.
McDonald also reiterated that Slavisa Jokanovic has told his players to keep true to their footballing principles and that the Fulham squad don’t feel under any extra pressure on the eve of the new season.
We are a new team coming to the league so I do not think there is pressure on us. Outsiders always think the three promoted teams are favourites to get relegated. With the signings we have made maybe we are different. The gaffer wants us to play the exact same way. He got us here playing that way. That is not going to change.
Valencia defender Martin Montoya has flown into London for a medical ahead of his proposed move to Fulham.
The former Barcelona defender is eager to play in the Premier League and has been allowed to leave Valencia after they brought in Cristiano Piccini from Sporting Lisbon last month. The 27 year-old missed Valencia’s training session this morning in order to make the journey to England, according to reports in the Spanish press.
Montoya is an attacking right back who came through the famed La Masia academy to win three league titles, two Copa del Rays and the Champions’ League in 2014/2015 with Barcelona. He was also part of the Spanish under-21 side that won back-to-back European Championships in 2011 and 2013 and was a regular in the first-team during his two years at Valencia. He made 62 appearances at the Mestella, scoring two goals and making seven assists, and is also versatile enough to play at left back as well.
Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic has been seeking to augment his options at right back since Ryan Frdericks signed for West Ham on a free transfer earlier in the summer. He has been using academy graduates Marlon Fossey and Steven Sessegnon in rotation with Irish international Cyrus Christie for much of pre-season, but it looks as if the Premier League new boys are about to add some more defensive depth before the start of the new campaign.
Queens Park Rangers are eager to sign Marcus Bettinelli should the goalkeeper be allowed to leave Fulham following the arrival of Sergio Rico, according to the Daily Mail.
The former England under-21 international had an excellent second half of the season as Fulham went on a 23-match unbeaten run to win promotion via the Championship play-offs. Bettinelli kept a clean sheet as the Whites beat Aston Villa at Wembley, but he was swiftly usurped in the pecking order at Craven Cottage when Fulham brought in Spanish custodian Fabri from Besiktas.
The Fulham academy graduate looks set to slip further down the list of Slavisa Jokanovic’s goalkeeping options when Rico completes a loan move from Sevilla, which was widely trailed in the Spanish press yesterday. The 26 year-old, who signed a contract extension with the Whites last summer, has made 98 first-team appearances since making his Fulham debut in the League Cup win at Brentford in August 2014.
QPR are looking for an experienced Championship goalkeeper having sold Alex Smithies earlier this summer, although Bettinelli is also rumoured to be interesting Bristol City, who have previously offered him a loan route out of Craven Cottage when he was second choice to Button two years ago. The likeable goalkeeper has twice turned down a possible switch to Chelsea in order to compete for his place at Fulham and recently spoke of his excitement at the chance to play in the Premier League, but could be persuaded to move on for regular first-team football.
Olympiacos could be in line to offer Rui Fonte a deadline-day move away from Fulham, according to reports this morning.
The Greek club are discussing the possibility of a loan move or permanent deal for the Portuguese striker, who has struggled to make an impact in England since arriving from Braga last summer. Fulham have given Fonte permission to hold talks with Olympiacos just two days before their Premier League season kicks off against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The 28 year-old came to Fulham with some fanfare after scoring fifteen goals to help Braga to a fifth-place finish, but struggled to replicate that form in the Championship – despite scoring on his second appearance for the Whites, in a 2-0 win at Ipswich Town. Fonte finished the season largely being utilised as a substitute by Slavisa Jokanovic with three goals in 28 appearances.
He has won 22 caps for Portugal, scoring eight times at senior international level, and won both the Portuguese League Cup and the Portuguese Cup during his time at Braga. The Evening Standard suggests that Fulham are stepping up their attempts to sign back up to Aleksandar Mitrovic as they prepare for Fonte’s possible departure. It is unlikely that the Londoners will receive anything close to the more than £8m they paid for Fonte last year.