Michael Obafemi grabbed the only goal of the game as Southampton knocked Fulham out of the League Cup in a low-key encounter at Craven Cottage this evening.
Scott Parker shuffled his starting line-up, making nine changes from the side that were beaten by Nottingham Forest on Saturday, with an eye on Friday’s crucial trip to Cardiff City in the Championship. The Fulham boss handed a debut to former Tottenham midfielder Josh Onomah and a first start to forward Bobby Decordova-Reid, whilst also offering first-team opportunities to Matt O’Riley and Luca de la Torre.
The Whites more than matched their Premier League opponents during a tight first-half, even though Ralf Hassenhuttl stayed true to his word and named a strong side. The hosts made the brighter start with Decordova-Reid rattling the crossbar from an early free-kick and former QPR goalkeeper Alex McCarthy producing a smart reaction save to tip over Cyrus Christie’s header from the rebound.
American midfielder de la Torre, who faded after a lively start, drifted infield effectively in the early stages. He showed great pace to accelerate away from the Southampton defence but skewed a shot wide from a promising position and then similarly lacked the composure to finish a fine move featuring Kamara and Decordova-Reid, who also shot wide from the edge of the box. O’Riley, who sent the game’s first effort high into the Putney End, showed the poise and range of passing that has seen him highlighted as the pick of the academy prospects for the past couple of seasons, but Fulham lacked the punch up front to capitalise on his vision.
Southampton gradually grew into the contest over a slow start and their top flight quality began to show. Marek Rodak had an outstanding game in the Fulham goal, first being called into action as he lunged low at his near post to prevent a Cedric Soares’ cross from reaching two Saints’ attackers. Nathan Redmond looked the most likely to trouble a makeshift Fulham defence, that included stand-in skipper Kevin McDonald at centre back, but the Scottish international denied both him and Moussa Djenpo in quick succession with brave blocks. The bright Redmond threatened again on the stroke of half-time, but drove a speculative shot over the bar.
Southampton stepped things up after the break and put the Fulham goal under some concerted pressure. James Ward-Prowse, impressive at the heart of the Saints midfield, curled a free-kick narrowly over and then, after being presented with a glorious opportunity by a loose Maxime Le Marchand pass, Oriel Romeu was repelled by the onrushing Rodak. Redmond than glanced a header wide from an inviting Ward-Prowse set-play and you sensed an opening was coming.
The Southampton goal duly arrived just before the half mark when Redmond raced down the Fulham left, beating the covering McDonald for pace and squaring perfectly for the teenage Obafemi to slot home his second senior goal from close range. The arrival of Danny Ings and Shane Long as second half substitutes strengthened the visitors’ firepower and only a string of fine saves from Rodak kept Parker’s men in the contest.
First, the Slovenian international made himself big at his near post to prevent Ings from making an almost immediate impact from an acute angle and – after blocking another Ings effort – he plucked a Maya Yoshida header out of the air. McDonald made a couple of saving tackles as Fulham were nearly punished for playing out from the back. It was proving hard for this makeshift Fulham side to get themselves high up the pitch – and the introduction of three debutantes from the sidelines, in the shape of Tyrese Francois, Ben Davis and Martell Taylor-Crossdale, initially broke up the game’s rhythm.
Fulham’s late onslaught never really materialised. The closest the hosts’ came to an equaliser was when Decordova-Reid lashed an effort narrowly wide from the inside left position, although referee Robert Jones missed the clear deflection that had taken it wide of the post. Both Taylor-Crossdale and Francois made their presence felt in the final stages, but the Whites looked for an extra pass rather than the shot as time ticked away and Southampton fully deserved their place in the third round.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Bryan, McDonald, Le Marchand; Onomah, Johansen (Francois 80), O’Riley; de la Torre (Davis 90), Kamara (Taylor-Crossdale 90), Decordova-Reid. Subs (not used): Norman, Opoku, Odoi, S. Sessegnon.
BOOKED: Johansen, Le Marchand.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-2-2): McCarthy; Soares, Hojberg, Bednarek (Yoshida 60), Danso; Romeu, Ward-Prowse; Boufal, Djenpo; Redmond (Long 76), Obafemi (Ings 68). Subs (not used): Gunn, Stephens, Valery, Armstrong.
BOOKED: Danso, Ward-Prowse.
REFEREE: Robert Jones (Merseyside).