Fulham’s Under 18s return to FA Youth Cup action tonight with a tough fifth round trip to Manchester City, reliably considered one of the country’s finest academies. Steve Wigley’s charges should go into the contest full of confidence, though. They have lost just one of their fourteen league games this season – setting the pace at the top of the Premier League South standings – and with City leading the way in the North, the scene is set for a mouthwatering clash.

The man of the moment Jay Stansfield, whose outstanding form since his summer arrival from Exeter City has seen him elevated to the senior squad, will lead the line for Fulham at the Etihad Campus this evening fresh from signing professional terms with the club. The seventeen year-old striker has scored eighteen goals in eleven appearances for the under-18s this term and also netted on his under-23 debut against West Ham. His eye-catching debut in the FA Cup against Aston Villa was followed by a first senior league appearance in the closing stages at Charlton Athletic a couple of weeks ago and Stansfield’s consistency has seen him earn England honours as well. He scored a hat-trick against South Shields in the third round – and could be Fulham’s most potent threat should he be selected after missing the weekend win over Reading.

Fulham came through a tough tussle with Sheffield United in the fourth round, with full back Cody Drameh finishing off a flowing counter-attack after running fully 70 yards with the ball having helped the Whites clear a corner. Such was the quality of Drameh’s delightful strike that it was among the contenders for the Fulham January goal of the month award. Drameh, another of the promising right backs that the Fulham academy have produced of ate, has featured regularly for Mark Pembridge’s under-23 side and this is a common characteristic of the team that Wigley is likely to pick tonight, with seven of the starters against South Shields having seen some PL2 action this season.

Fulham’s key player could well be the prodigiously talented Fabio Carvalho, who has captained the under 18s on several occasions this season. The England youth international, who burst onto the scene with some superb performances in Fulham’s FA Youth Cup to the quarter finals in 2018, is excellent adept playing as a winger or a number ten and is having a sensational season so far. Carvalho has scored four goals and made five more in ten appearances for the under-18s, whilst four times in six starts at under-23 level as well. His guile, flair and vision will be crucial to unlocking the Manchester City defence this evening.

The consistently high level of young talent that comes through the Fulham academy is something of a marvel, with credit having to go to academy director Huw Jennings, Malcolm Elias and, of course, Wigley, who is now back in charge at under-18 level. This might just be the best crop of under-18s since the side that reached the final of the FA Youth Cup in 2014, a line-up that included the likes of Moussa Dembele, Patrick Roberts and Marek Rodak. City will prove a tough test, but there’s no reason why the Whites can’t progress further in the competition with another composed display.

MY FULHAM U18s XI: Las; Drameh, Odutayo, Murphy, McAvoy; Page, O’Neill; Carvalho, Jasper, Tiehl; Stansfield.