Fulham’s Under 18s survived an almighty scare as they came from behind to finally end Plymouth Argyle’s fairtytale FA Youth Cup run at the fifth round stage after extra time at Home Park tonight.
Argyle, who had already knocked out Premier League opposition in the form of Manchester City and Burnley to reach the last sixteen, threatened another upset when striker Klaidi Lolos put them ahead and Kevin Hodges’ boys held onto their until deep into the second half when a splendid strike from Nicolas Santos-Clase drew Fulham level. The Cottagers’ class told in extra time when strikes from substitute Fabio Carvahlo and Jayden Harris in either half set up a quarter final meeting with either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur.
Fulham travelled safe in the knowledge that the Pilgrims would provide a stern test following their extraordinary exploits in this year’s competition but Colin Omogbehin’s side were pushed all the way by an Argyle side who showed composure, verve and plenty of technical ability. The evening might have gone smoother for the visitors had Sonny Hilton, who flitted in and out of the contest, sent an early shot inside the far post instead of guiding it wide having fashioned an opening for himself with a lovely bit of skill inside two minutes.
Instead, the home side grew in confidence as their first forays suggested they might catch their opponents cold. Ryan Law drew an early save from Luca Ashby-Hammond and the clever touches of Cameron Sangster, who showed all the class of someone who has already made his senior debut, hinted at brighter things to come. Argyle were temporarily forced back by a couple of barnstorming runs from Steven Sessegnon, whose deployment as a centre back tonight didn’t prevent him from storming forward, but the excellent Michael Cooper in the home goal remained untroubled.
Lolos almost put Plymouth in front out of nothing with a ferocious drive from fully 30 yards in the eighteenth minute. The power behind the shot surprised Ashby-Hammond, who reacted sharply to smother his own parry, but Fulham failed to heed the lively striker’s warning. Five minutes later, he put Plymouth ahead after Tyrese Francois was stripped of possession in midfield and Tom Purrington threaded a through ball between the Fulham centre halves. It seemed Lolos had dwelt on the ball too long as Ashby-Hammond advanced to avert the danger, but he poked home a low finish to send Home Park wild.
Fulham were rattled and, five minutes after going behind, they were very fortunate not to be 2-0 down. Ashby-Hammond made an ill-advised dash from his goalline to try and reach a long ball before Lolos but Greek forward skipped around the goalkeeper’s desperate challenge and curled an effort agonisingly wide of the far post from the right wing position. It was a moment of magic that deserved a goal – and a frail Fulham side somehow escaped unharmed.
Law almost doubled the lead just before the break but Ashby-Hammond made a smart reaction save at his near post, whilst at the other end, Fulham saw plenty of the ball but lacked penetration in the final third. The closest the young Whites came to an equaliser was actually courtesy of Harry Downing, who almost diverted a Joe Felix cross into his own net as he attempted to clear the danger ahead of Timmy Abraham. It was no surprise when the Londoners stepped up the pace after half time – after which Abraham didn’t reappear – with brave blocks denying both Djed Spence and Harris in quick succession.
Omogbehin introduced Portuguese attacking midfielder Fabio Carvahlo, who scored a hat-trick against Reading at the weekend, for Hilton and that enlivened a rather slovenly Fulham attack. The equaliser came through birthday boy Niclas Santos-Clase, who reprised his match-winning role at Swansea in the previous round, firing a low shot from the edge of the box beyond Cooper, who was rooted to the spot. Santos-Clase then went close with a powerful drive that flew right across the face of goal and, in a tense finale, Cooper made superb saves to first thwart Ryan de Havailland and then Felix.
The young goalkeeper, who made his senior debut at Gillingham earlier this season, showed his big match temperament with a world-class double save in stoppage time when Santos-Clase looked odds on to break Argyle hearts as he was played in on goal by a beautiful pass from de Havailland. Instead, we had extra time and Fulham’s superior fitness was suddenly beginning to tell. Cooper made another excellent stop to deny Chris Kelly, but was eventually beaten by Carvahlo two minutes before the end of the first period of extra time.
The two substitutes combined with de Havailland somehow squeezing a pass through to Carvahlo when he appeared to be crowded out by Plymouth defenders. The classy midfielder kept his composure as Cooper advanced off his line and dinked a finish into the far corner. It may have been a mishit and appeared more than a little scruffy, but that mattered not to the delirious Fulham players. The Whites wrapped up victory five minutes into the second half when Harris capped a surging run from midfield but slipping an unerring finish beyond Cooper.
Plymouth certainly didn’t throw in the towel in the time that remained. Sangster kept driving his team forward and it was rather unkind that the peerless playmaker missed the penalty that offered a late route back into the match after Carvahlo had felled Law just inside the box. Sangster’s weak effort from twelve yards was pushed away by Ashby-Hammond, who has history in the Cup this season after his penalty heroics at Huddersfield, and Fulham were left to reflect on the great resolves of character they showed to come through a real test in the south west.
PLYMOUTH ARGYLE U18s (4-2-3-1): Cooper; Hodges, Law, Downing, Crawford; Purrington, Ward (Garside 115); Craske (Gouty 73), Jephcott, Sangster; Lolos (Peck 110). Subs (not used): Childs, Burn.
GOAL: Lolos (23).
FULHAM U18s (4-2-3-1): L. Ashby-Hammond; Spence, Felix, Mundle-Smith, S. Sessegnon; Harris, Francois; Kelly (York 118), Santos-Clase, Hilton (Carvahlo 68); Abraham (de Havailland 45). Subs (not used): Schwarzer, Martin.
GOALS: Santos-Clase (69), Carvahlo (103), Harris (109).
REFEREE: Alex Blake.