A late winner from Ryan Williams helped Fulham’s under 18s come from behind to see off a spirited Leicester City side and reach the Premier League Academy Final against Blackburn next weekend.
The Australian winger, signed from Portsmouth back in January, fired an angled shot past Conor Brennan with six minutes to play after being set up by the excellent Cauley Woodrow. Kit Symonds’ side made things difficult for themselves, though, conceding the initiative to an adventurous Foxes’ side, who more than merited their early lead. Lively forward Harry Panayiotou, who scored a last-minute winner for the first team against Leeds last weekend, cleverly chipped home after Connor Roberts had parried a drive from Matt Robinson.
Fulham gradually got into their stride and Buomesca Tu Na Banga was unlucky to head narrowly wide of the far post after excellent wing play from Williams. The Whites did equalise five minutes before the break when Henri Oltman’s floated free-kick found Cauley Woodrow who beat Brennan to the ball and looped a header over the advancing Leicester goalkeeper. The hosts might have even headed in at half time had Sean Kavanagh’s free-kick not thundered back off the post and Woodrow was dismayed to have spurned what seemed – for him – a straightforward chance inside the six yard box. At the other end, an ambitious free-kick from Theo Brown almost surprised Roberts, who got down well to make a diving save at his near post.
The second half was much more open from the off and Leicester almost stole the lead after a defensive mistake from Kavanagh let in Tom Hopper and the Foxes striker appeared to have done everything right – holding off Josh Passley and rounding the goalkeeper – before spooning his shot inexplicably over. He also sent a free header disappointingly wide from a corner.
Fulham were far more progressive in the second half themselves, something which was illustrated by the growing influence of skipper Ronnie Minkwitz. The central midfielder split the Leicester defence with a gloriously weighted ball which Woodrow was disappointed not to convert as he lifted a shot over the crossbar from an acute angle. The excellent Passley, who produced several crucial tackles in his own penalty area, ventured forward to great success on a couple of occasions and Na Banga began to torment his full-back. The former Chelsea winger almost created a goal just before the hour mark when a mazy dribble and low cross flummoxed a Foxes defender into slicing his clearance just wide of the near post.
Na Banga almost capped a flowingly counter-attack that spanned nearly the length of the field as Jack Grimmer and Minkwitz combined to send him clear down the left only for Brennan to get his angles right and save smartly with his feet. Fulham thought they had grabbed a winner with twelve minutes remaining when Woodrow guided home Na Banga’s low cross but the assistant’s flag went up almost instantaneously. Leicester’s reprieve was short-lived as the hosts ratcheted up the pressure and, finally, after good hold-up play from Woodrow, Williams swept home impressively from nine yards to complete Fulham’s comeback.
There were still plenty of nerves in the closing stages. Roberts, who had already saved superbly from Hopper, repelled Pierre Larrauri and Panayiotou before the final whistle sounded. The Under-18’s will now face Blackburn in the Academy final next Saturday.
FULHAM U18s: Roberts; Brister, Kavanagh, Passley, Grimmer; Christensen (Sambou), Minkwitz; Williams, Na Banga Altman; Woodrow. Subs (not used): Oberschmidt, O’Reilly, Banya, Tankovic, Gameiro.