By Craig Green
The under 18’s took themselves to within 90 minutes of retaining the Group A title in the Premier Academy League with a resounding win against a strong Reading side Saturday lunchtime.
Kit Symons included Mesca, Williams and captain Minkwitz, although the in-form Lyle Della Verde missed out due to injury.
Fulham started their dominance of possession from the off and this really set the tone for the game, though it was Reading who found themselves with the first real opening, Smith slipping with wet underfoot conditions and Brister failing to control left Smith having to redeem himself in a one-on-one situation. The keeper stayed big and blocked the attempt to save him a certain level of embarrassment.
The home side were unfazed and carried on dominating possession, starting to work some neat positions and allowing Williams our first shot of the game, cutting in and drilling a low shot forcing the opposition keeper into a neat save. The attacking continued and Fulham were working the ball well across the pitch and switching play quickly when needed, resulting in a few chances to see Mesca run at his man and fire some delightful balls across the box, Vigen and Woodrow both being unable to finish them off on occasions.
It was the speed at which Fulham switched the play that resulted in the opening goal after half an hour. It was Mesca who took the ball and opted to cut inside causing havoc, and laying into the path of Altman whose first touch was worthy of a goal, allowing him to bypass two defenders and slot nicely under the legs of the keeper from 10 yards.
It wasn’t long before the home side carved out another chance, Kavanagh with his first chance to overlap and finding the centre of the goal from a lovely dipping cross, only to be frantically headed over his own bar by the Reading centre back.
Reading had few half-chances in the opening 45, having to result to set play opportunities and not quite taking advantage of some encouraging breaks when they saw themselves with a man over on a couple of occasions .
The home side came out for the second half firing and quashed any hopes of a Reading revival a few minutes after the restart, Brister surging forward and beating three men to drive into the box and fire home low into the far corner, no more than he deserved after a 100% committed display.
Fulham were really kicking on now and the Reading forays into the Fulham half were becoming less frequent, with Minkwitz and Vigen completely dominating the Reading central pairing with help from Mesca, Williams and Altman providing willing pressing whilst without the ball.
Reading were forced to resort to ambitious efforts, a 40 yard free kick fired wide, whilst Fulham were beginning to find space higher and higher up the pitch, with each of our defenders being afforded room to make dashing runs from their own half onto the doorstep of the visiting keeper, though not resulting in anything clear cut.
Woodrow was replaced on the hour by Corey Gameiro, the former finding himself unlucky in a couple of attempts and just faltering against dogged defending and a couple of last ditch tackles denying him what could have been a brace on another day. A second sub was not too far off, with Tankovic replacing scorer Altman in the deep lying forward role.
The first time Reading really cut the home side open was met with a great reflex save from Smith, left one on one after what the home defence were claiming was an offside striker in behind them. Smith parried brilliantly and was left injured in the resulting scramble for the ball but carried on after a lengthy stoppage.
It wasn’t long before Tankovic was starting where Altman left off, being laid on by a perfectly weighted pass behind the defence from Vigen, the striker opening his body but his curling effort being denied by the keepers outstretched leg.
Not long after it was 3 nil and game over. The pace added to the frontline by Gameiro was found by a Minkwitz through ball, and the striker managed to round the keeper even after a stumble, and finish adequately into the resulting open goal from a narrow angle.
What turned out to be Reading’s last chance at a consolation goal was also by far their best, a quick break leading to a back post cross being laid back into the path of the oncoming striker, only to be somehow fired over the bar from little more than 3 yards, unbelievable miss.
It wasn’t long after that that skipper Minkwitz was replaced by Sambou in attempting to tighten the defence, though that definitely didn’t appear to be the case as Sambou won the ball deep in our half and surged forward, finding Gameiro who managed to slot the ball to his left for the man over Mesca to get a touch inside the box and fire low across the keeper, though it was Tankovic onrushing in the centre who decided to steal the glory and finish himself in front of a good crowd at Motspur Park.
The resulting 10 minutes were played out by a now confident Fulham side knocking the ball around and affording some trickery to the delight of the crowd, 4-0.
A majestic home performance with the back 4 taking all the plaudits with a clean sheet and being just as efficient in the attacking half of the pitch. The timely introduction of Gameiro played a part, with the opposition defence not quite adjusting to the Australians pace and aggression, though maybe some of the plaudits go to MK Dons who gave Reading a real game on Wednesday instead of rolling over like they so often had this season.
It is now onto Norwich for the youngsters, looking for timely revenge to take the title, after a somewhat unjust result when they came to Motspur Park and turned us over 2-1. Good luck lads, you more than deserve it.
FULHAM U18s: Smith; Brister, Passley, Arthurworrey, Kavanagh; Williams, Minkwitz (Sambou), Vigen, Mesca ; Altman (Tankovic), Woodrow (Gameiro).