Fulham’s Under 18s are looking to create more history tonight as they face local rivals Chelsea in an intriguing FA Youth Cup quarter final tie at Craven Cottage.
Colin Omogbehin’s side are hoping to continue a fine Cup run that has seen them reach the last eight playing some sparkling football away from home. Goalkeeper Luca-Ashby Hammond saved two penalties before scoring the decisive spot-kick in a dramatic shoot-out victory at Huddersfield Town before two Nicolas Santos-Clase goals carried the young Whites past Swansea City. Fulham had to come from behind against this year’s giantkillers Plymouth Argyle in the fifth with goals from Santos-Clase, Fabio Carvahlo and Jayden Harris securing victory after extra time at Home Park.
The Under 18s head coach is looking forward to a big night down by the Thames this evening. He told the club’s official website:
It’s a London derby, it’s a quarter-final. It’s a fantastic occasion and we want as many fans there as we can to support and get behind the boys. It’s a fantastic opportunity for our young players, it should be the type of game they want to be involved in.
Chelsea will have a number of different ways they could set up, but we know they will be difficult. They have some fantastic individuals and important players that have done very well for them, not just at youth level but some have played in the Checkatrade Trophy and the UEFA Youth League. We expect them to bring some top players but we are going to concentrate on our game and do what we do, and hopefully we will be successful.
Omogbehin’s side won’t feature Ryan Sessegnon, but should include his twin brother Steven, who has been commanding at centre back alongside Jaydn Mundle-Smith in the competition to date. Sonny Hilton, one of the brightest talents in English youth talent, could begin behind Timmy Abraham, the younger brother of Chelsea forward Tammy. Young right back Djed Spence is certainly one to watch, whilst central midfielder Tyrese Francois has been in fine form of late.
Omogbehin will be joined at Craven Cottage by first team head coach Slavisa Jokanovic, who represented Chelsea during his playing days. The Serbian has promoted a number of academy starlets to his first-team squad over the past eighteen months and believes the young Whites can cause an upset this evening. He told GetWestLondon’s Ryan O’Donovan:
It’s a great challenge for our youth team, it’s going to be interesting and I’m going to watch and try enjoy it, but I expect we are going to win the game.
Huw Jennings, who has overseen a remarkable transformation in Fulham’s youth team set up that now sees the Motspur Park academy widely considered one of the country’s best, has always stressed that his youth team philosophy is about developing players rather than winning at all costs. He doesn’t regard the Youth Cup as ‘season-defining’ – pointing to the emergence of Marcus Bettinelli, Lasse Vigen Christensen, Emerson Hyndman, Moussa Dembele and Cauley Woodrow into the club’s first-team squad as being more important than the quarter-final defeat in 2009 and that final setback a year later.
Chelsea, managed by former midfielder Jody Morris, will be tough opposition as the Blues have won the competition for four years in succession, starting with Fulham’s heartbreaking last-gasp 7-6 defeat at Stamford Bridge in 2016. The Blues are currently top of the U18 Premier League with a six-point lead over Manchester City and have been in imperious form in the Youth Cup already. Chelsea put seven past fierce rivals West Ham, comfortably beat Scunthorpe and won 2-0 at Tottenham earlier this month to set up this rematch of the 2014 final. Morris has a number of young stars to pick from with strikers Martell Taylor-Crossdale and Charlie Brown having shared fourteen goals between them this term and midfielders Conor Gallagher and Billy Gilmour also enjoying excellent goalscoring returns. With Chelsea likely to field a back three, Fulham will need to watch the dangerous runs of wing backs Juan Familio-Castillo and Dujon Sterling, who are already regulars in Chelsea’s under 23 side.
It should be a fascinating tussle, with Friday’s narrow 1-0 win for the visitors at Motspur Park in the league largely contested by two under-16 sides as both clubs rested players ahead of the Cup clash. Tickets for tonight’s quarter final, which kicks off at 7.05pm, are available on the gate for £4 for adults and £1 for concessions.