Match report by Mark Harrison
George Williams scored twice for Fulham’s under 23s as Peter Grant’s side drew an absorbing PL2 game with Reading tonight at Craven Cottage and extended their unbeaten run to eight games.
The Welsh under-21 international opened the scoring just before half-time, driving in a cross from Jordan Graham to give the home side the lead. Romanian winger Adrian Popa levelled matters in the 61st minute with a magnificent long-range strike and, although Williams grabbed his second when he finished off a fine Fulham counter-attack with an expertly taken finish four minutes later, the points were shared when Popa popped up again to guide a finish under Magnus Norman after excellent approach play with twenty minutes to play.
The result leaves the Royals top of the Premier League 2 Divison Two by a single point, although they have played two more games than second-placed Middlesbrough. Fulham could consider themselves unfortunate not to have claimed all three points having created the clearer chances throughout but Grant will have to be satisfied after his side more than matched opponents who have promotion ambitions of their own in a game that swung from end to end as it went on.
Fulham began brightly at the Cottage and saw two early penalty shouts waved away by the referee before a couple of precise Graham crosses were scrambled away by the visiting defence. The Whites had two decent chances in the space of sixty seconds midway through the first half when Williams threaded a lovely through ball for Djed Spence but the full back was denied by an excellent save from George Legg and the Reading goalkeeper than clawed away Graham’s strike from the bottom right hand corner.
The lively Ben House then saw a shot drift just wide of goal after taking a deflection off Moritz Jenz and the Reading striker thought he had opened the scoring from close range three minutes before the break but Spence cleared his effort off the line. Fulham made the most of that reprieve to go in front in the last minute of normal time when Graham’s dangerous cross was fired in by Williams – and, on the balance of play, it was a lead the home side deserved.
The Royals came close to equalising seven minutes into the second half when defender Gabriel Osho almost found the net with an audacious curling effort from distance after Fulham had only half cleared a corner and Djed Spence blocked a speculative shot. The visitors began to pile the pressure on the Fulham goal with Norman making an excellent reaction save to prevent an own goal from Aron Davies, but Popa eventually got their merited equaliser with an unstoppable effort from distance.
Fulham went back in front four minutes later after Mattias Kait led a quick counter attack and carried the ball deep into Reading territory. The Estonian international used Graham’s intelligent run as a decoy, creating the space for Williams to collect the pass and fire in his second through two Royals defenders and in off the far post to restore Fulham’s lead.
The Whites couldn’t hold on for the victory, however, as a flowing Reading move saw Popa played in following a succession of patient passes and Popa, who like Williams appeared at Euro 2016 for his country, kept his cool to slip a finish under Norman and equalise for a second time. The visitors mounted a late bid to snatch all three points with the Fulham keeper doing well to dart off his line and deny House before Icelandic defender Axel Andresson headed over the bar from a corner in the fourth minute of added time.
FULHAM U23s: Norman, Nabay, Spence, Davies, Jenz, Francois, Kait (Elstone 82), Francois, Kwietniewski (Andrason 83), Williams, Thorsteinsson (Pearce 53), Graham. Subs (not used): Wickens, Elstone.
GOALS: Williams (45, 65).
READING U23s: Legg, Watson (Howe 45), Osho, Andrésson, Medford-Smith, East, Rollinson, Frost (Coleman 67), House, Shokunbi, Popa (Green 87). Subs (not used): Driscoll, Nditi.
GOALS: Popa (61, 70).