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Fulham’s under-21s were beaten 2-0 by Cambridge United in opening fixture of their EFL Trophy campaign as crowds returned to professional football in England for the first time.

An experimental Fulham side took a while to get into the contest against their experienced opponents. Cambridge were quickly onto the front foot, with the lively Tom Knowles denied by a timely block from Jayden Harris, who was deployed at right back. Luca Ashby-Hammond then produced a smart reaction save to keep out the young midfielder before Paul Digby went close with a pair of headers and a snapshot that flew over the bar.

Harvey Knibbs almost gave the U’s the lead on nineteen minutes but his cushioned finish flashed fractionally wide, but the Abbey Stadium was able to acclaim the opening goal less than five minutes later. Knowles deservedly got on the scoresheet with a well-struck free-kick, although Ashby-Hammond will be bitterly disappointed with how easily he was beaten at his near post. Knowles then fired an inviting cross right across the face of goal and only a brave block from Conor McAvoy prevented him from grabbing his second on the stroke of half-time.

Fulham enjoyed plenty of possession in the first period, but they found more penetration the longer the game went on. Cambridge goalkeeper Callum Burton made a good reaction save to keep out a speculative drive from Harris before producing an excellent stop to thwart Sylvester Jasper, who looked Fulham’s most likely source of an equaliser. Jay Stansfield, who captained the Whites for the first time, turned his man impressively but lifted his shot just over the crossbar as Colin Omogbehin’s side pressed for an equaliser.

Cambridge remained a threat themselves, with Knibbs firing fractionally over as he approached the penalty area, and wrapped up the victory with five minutes to play. Substitute Paul Mullin steered home a composed finish from the edge of the box and Fulham would head home with nothing to show for their efforts, even though Jean-Pierre Tiehi looked to have been fouled in the penalty area in the closing stages.

CAMBRIDGE UNITED: Burton, Knoyle (Mullin 79), Taylor, Iredale, Dunk, Davies, Digby, May (Simper 42), Knowles, Knibbs (Ironside 81), Dallas. Subs (not used): Mitov, Hannant, Cundy, Worman.

GOALS: Knowles (24), Mullin (85).

FULHAM: L. Ashby-Hammond, Larkeche, Mundle-Smith, McAvoy, Harris, Pajaziti (Ablade 68), de Havilland, Carvalho, Davis (Tiehi 82), Jasper, Stansfield. Subs (not used): Las, O’Neill, Odutayo.

REFEREE: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).

ATTENDANCE: 862.