It had been quite a while since I’d been to Griffin Park so the chance to watch Fulham’s reserves only a few minutes down the road from me was one I wasn’t going to pass up, particularly as the opponents were Chelsea.
Local derbies at Brentford were perhaps some of the most exciting games of my youth and, although it was a reserve game on a cold Monday evening, this one had plenty to keep the small crowd interested too. Billy McKinlay picked an interesting side. Toni Kallio continued his comeback from injury alongside Chris Smalling in central defence whilst there was a start for Matthew Briggs at left back. Simon Davies played in midfield and the presence of David Elm up front gave me a first chance to look at our Swedish striker.
Chelsea were apparently depleted by a spate of international call-ups handed out to the youngsters that usually make up their reserve team and it was Fulham who made the brighter start. Matt Saunders drove a shot over in the very first minute and things got better only a minute later. Michael Uwezu’s persistance was rewarded as sent a cross towards Elm and his strike partner did brilliantly to curl a shot beyond the helpless Ross Turnbull.
The lead didn’t last very long. Chelsea equalised from their very first attack, unlocking the Fulham defence far too easily. Former Manchester City striker Daniel Sturridge floated a through ball over the top of the Fulham defence and Billy Knott ran onto it before finishing clinically into the corner. The goal seemed to spark Chelsea into life with Milan Lalkovic forcing Pascal Zuberbuhler into a smart save.
Both Nikki Ahmed and Lalkovic spurned good chances to give the Blues the lead and Fulham were back in front ten minutes before the break. Davies and Elm had already combined to create a good opening for the Welsh international earlier in the half and this time Davies turned provider. The midfielder was found by Keanu Marsh-Brown and cushioned the ball for Elm to drive home his second of the evening from twelve yards. Chelsea’s marking might have been slack, but it was a well-worked goal.
Fulham had settled into a patient passing game that looked similar to that deployed by Roy Hodgson’s first team and, although Chelsea saw plenty of the ball, Hodgson would have approved of the defensive shape too. Only once before half-time did the defence look like it would be breached, when Seth Ofori-Twumasi’s cross-cum-shot came back off the crossbar.
The second half took a while to get going but there was a talking point when Turnbull dashed off his line to try and intercept a through ball from Saunders, only succeeding in bringing down Michael Uwezu. The former Middlesbrough goalkeeper was very lucky to get away with only a booking.
Chelsea found their second equaliser just before the hour mark. Josh MacEarhan threaded a clever ball through the Fulham defence and Strridge galloped around Zuberbuhler before rolling the ball into the unguarded net. There was still plenty of encouragement for a Fulham side that had been creating a number of chances and they retook the lead just two minutes later. Elm did well to nod a Davies free-kick into the path of Toni Kallio, who thumped a shot past Turnbull from close range.
Elm had a glorious chance to crown his night with a hat-trick when a weak kick from Turnbull landed at his feet but a desperate challenge from Jeffrey Bruma saw the Swede’s shot deflected wide. Fulham couldn’t hold out for the victory, though, as Sturridge’s cross was headed past Zuberbuhler by Lalkovic with eight minutes to play. The Whites might have snatched a winner when Smalling surged down the right and drove a shot against the near post.
It’s always difficult to draw conclusions from reserve team fixtures with the game played at a slower pace than first team football. Smalling looked composed at centre back and I was impressed again with Marsh-Brown’s energy from right back. I’ve seen plenty of disparagement of Elm since he signed – and sure, he’s a little rough round the edges, but I felt he had a good game. Whether he goes the way of our last Swedish striker, Bjorn Runstrom, remains to be seen.
CHELSEA RESERVES (4-4-2): Turnbull; Ofori-Twumasi, Bruma, Mills, Gordon; Woods (Clifford 7), Ahmed, Knott (Philliskirk 80), McEarhan; Lalkovic, Sturridge. Subs (not used): Heimann, Strickland, Mitrovic.
GOALS: Knott (3), Sturridge (58), Lalkovic (83).
FULHAM RESERVES (4-4-2): Zuberbuhler; Marsh-Brown, Briggs, Smalling, Kallio; Saunders, Moscatiello, Davies, Anderson; Uwezu (Hoesen 83), Elm. Subs (not used): Foderingham, Smith, Harris.
GOALS: Elm (3, 35), Kallio (61).