Just got in from Motspur Park, where the Fulham Reserves comfortably beat their Birmingham counterparts 3-0.
Fulham lined up in what was more a 4-2-2-2 formation than the more familiar 4-4-2 that the first team play. Neil Etheridge was given a chance in goal, protected by the strong-looking defensive units of Cheick Toure and Matthew Briggs, flanked by Fredrik Stoor and Keanu Marsh-Brown on an unfamiliar left-hand side. Kagisho Dikagcoi and Robert Milsom sat quite deep in midfield, hounding and hassling the Birmingham midfielders when not in possession; and recycling the ball intelligently when they did. Wayne Brown and Chris Buchtmann playing in advanced positions on the flanks; Stefano Okaka and Danny Hoesen were given a go up front, where they made intelligent runs and dropped deep with effect.
Birmingham gave starts to Kevin Phillips, Teemu Tainio and ex-Fulham defender Franck Queudrue, but other than these three, this was an inexperienced line-up.
Fulham opened the scoring in the early stages of the game: Dikagcoi played a long pass over the Birmingham defence; Hoesen timed his run brilliantly to beat the offside trap, and slotted the ball calmly past Colin Doyle in the Birmingham goal.
Minutes later, Fulham doubled their lead. Milsom, Buchtmann and Okaka linked up well in position, before Wayne Brown received the ball on the right hand side. Brown cut inside and shot – crucially, it took a big deflection, taking it past the helpless Doyle.
And before the quarter of an hour mark had passed, Fulham found themselves three goals up. Buchtmann’s deep corner from the right-hand side was nodded back across the face of goal by Briggs, leaving Okaka with the simple task of poking the ball home.
What was rather strange about this game is that other than this burst of three goals, it could be claimed that Birmingham were in fact the better side. They certainly had more of the ball, with the impressive Michel Madera demonstrating his broad range of passing. Phillips too looked dangerous, dropping deep and linking play well. However, on the one occasion he found himself through on goal, he also found Etheridge making a very impressive stop to deny the ex-England striker.
The second half was much of the same. Birmingham had most of the ball, especially once Dikgacoi departed and Buchtmann moved into the centre, but were unable to break through a stubborn and hard-working Fulham side. How often we have seen this with the senior side, allowing the opposition to keep the ball and do nothing with it; pressing them and not letting them create anything like a decent chance; before Fulham break away, attacking with intent and incision. Indeed, it says much of the game that whilst Birmingham had plenty of the ball, Etheridge wasn’t overly troubled. The best chance of the half went to Fulham, Okaka teeing up Brown on the left-hand side, forcing Doyle to make a super save.
All in all, a convincing and comfortable win, with impressive performances all over the pitch. Whilst Birmingham had a lot of the ball, it was Fulham who looked the more dangerous side. And much of that was down to the excellent work by Dikagcoi and Milsom in the centre of midfield.
FULHAM RESERVES (4-2-2-2): Etheridge; Stoor, Marsh-Brown, Briggs, Toure; Dikgacoi (Smith 65), Milsom, Brown, Buchtmann; Okaka, Hoesen (Payne 71). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Pierre, Harris.
GOALS: Hoesen (9), Brown (14), Briggs (18).
BIRMINGHAM CITY RESERVES (4-4-2): Doyle; Ozturk (Dunphy 69), Rowe, Kerr, Queudrue; Michel (Sammons 75), Tainio, O’Shea, Shroot; Phillips (Redmond 75), Jervis. Subs (not used): Butland, Asante.