In what Martin Jol will hope is a positive omen for the meeting between the senior sides on Saturday, Fulham’s reserves thumped their Norwich City counterparts 5-1 at Colney training centre yesterday afternoon. The Whites followed up their impressive away win at Sunderland last week with another three points putting their recent run of defeats well behind them with a commanding performance.
Norwegian international Bjorn Helge Riise, something of a forgotten man in recent times at Fulham, was the star performer with his excellent delivery from the flanks proving too hot to handle for what looked like a strong Norwich second string. The junior Riise made the first goal some eight minutes in for Ray Lewington’s team when his dangerous corner was never completely cleared and Algerian centre back Rafik Halliche drove home impressively from just inside the box. The visitors doubled their lead on sixteen minutes when a teasing centre – after some distinctly average defending from Daniel Ayala offered Riise another crossing opportunity – found full-back Alex Smith, revelling in a more advanced midfield role in this game, who ghosted in at the back post to guide a clinical finish past Jed Steer from the edge of the penalty area.
Fulham’s crisp passing was threatening to tear Norwich apart. The former Lillestrom midfielder was a constant menace and another excellent cross allowed Marcello Trotta, fresh from his first-team duty as a substitute at Old Trafford last night, to climb above the home defence and head fractionally over Steer’s crossbar. Norwich did rouse themselves and nearly pulled a goal back when Harry Toffolo’s snapshot reared up off over Dan Burn and narrowly avoiding ballooning over Grant Smith into the top corner. From the ensuing corner, the Canaries did reduce their arrears when new arrival Ryan Bennett powered home a header with Fulham’s marking non-existent. The equally unattended Aaron Wilbraham was also well-placed to profit from Bradley Johnson’s flag-kick had the England under-21 international not been quite so clinical in the air.
It proved to be a fleeting moment of glory for Norwich, despite their greater pressure as the half-time whistle approached. Buomesca Tue Na Bangna ventured infield to great effect, skipping away from Bennett all too easily, and linking up with Riise, who got a deserved goal for his fine first-half showing, when his shot beat Steer with the aid of a deflection off Ayala. Just before the break Smith scored his second of the afternoon with a clinical finish after some more accommodating City defending to hand Lewington a straight forward team-talk.
There was just a single goal despite Fulham’s second half dominance. It came immediately after the restart when the impressive Na Bangna punished a horrible hospital pass from Johnson to run in on goal and slide a simple finish past a stranded Steer. Jacob Murphy and Jamar Loza spurned good openings for the hosts as they shot high and wide respectfully but Fulham were always well in control. They could have a sixth but Smith’s curling free-kick dropped wide of the post to deny him a hat-trick and Leon Barnett’s brave block prevent Riise from adding to his tally. Young Australian winger Ryan Williams also went close but Steer kept out his low drive.
NORWICH CITY RESERVES (4-3-1-2): Steer, Brindley, Toffolo (Barker 86), Bennett, Barnett, Ayala, Crofts, Johnson, Wilbraham (Hall-Johnson 66), Loza, Jacob Murphy (Josh Murphy 78). Subs (not used): Clunan, Wootton.
GOAL: Bennett (34).
FULHAM RESERVES (4-5-1): G Smith; Harris, Kavanagh, Halliche (Grimmer 25), Burn; Gecov, B-H Riise, A Smith, Minwitz (Christensen 80), Bangna (Williams 74); Trotta. Subs (not used): Oberschmidt, Pritchard.
GOALS: Halliche (9), Smith (12, 45), Risse (42), Bangna (46).
REFEREE: A. Young