A stunning stoppage-time strike from Sonny Hilton saw Fulham’s under 23s win a seven-goal thriller at Sunderland and get their PL2 campaign off to a winning start. The visitors showed tremendous character to come from behind having surrendered a 2-1 advantage earlier in the second period, with their stirring comeback sparked by a fine long-range finish from substitute Kieron Bowie.
Fulham began brightly, dominating possession with holding midfielder Jonathan Page sending an early effort over the crossbar from distance. Their slick passing moves were causing problems for the Sunderland defence with Irish youth international Ollie O’Neill almost getting clear down the left flank on a couple of occasions and Marlon Fossey flying forward from right back.
Centre back Patrick Almond, who was booked for bringing down the lively Terry Ablade, had the hosts’ first opportunity but his deflected drive was comfortably held by Taye Ashby-Hammond. Ashby-Hammond had to be alert to the danger shortly afterwards to deny Will Harris after a smart one-two with Stephen Wearne and Fulham punished some sloppy defending to take the lead from their next attack. Sixteen year-old Luke Harris continued his excellent summer form by stroking into the bottom corner at the second attempt after Fossey’s cross fell kindly for him in the Sunderland area.
But the Londoners didn’t lead for long. Will Harris brought Sunderland level within five minutes – following up to finish after Ashby-Hammond had made a smart save from Wearne – and the Wearsiders finished the first period in the ascendancy, with Wearne’s clever movement posing particular problems for the Fulham rearguard.
Fulham went back in front five minutes after the interval when Ablade nipped in to steal possession from Almond and surged into the area, firing home a clinical near-post finish. But the home side quickly equalised when Will Harris sent Ashby-Hammond the wrong way from twelve yards after Dyce had been tripped in the box. Sunderland suffered a blow when the lively Wearne had to be substituted following a serious shoulder injury, but his replacement Caden Kelly made an instant impact – swinging in a superb corner that was headed home by Dyce to give Elliott Dickman’s side the lead.
That sparked the visitors back into life. Jack McIntyre, on trial in Sunderland’s goal after being released by Everton, made magnificent saves to prevent Ablade’s low drive from levelling matters and then, from the ensuring corner, clawing away Conor McAvoy’s effort at point blank range. Steve Wigley sent on Kieron Bowie in search of an equaliser and the Scottish youngster obliged almost immediately. The former Raith Rovers forward produced a peach of a finish from 20 yards after turning a defender inside out, with the left-footed strike proving too hot for McIntyre to handle.
Fulham spurned good chances to go in front in the final quarter of an hour. Fossey, who was probably Fulham’s brightest performer as he looks to put years of injuries behind him, thundered forward down the right and delivered a devilish cross for Ziyad Larkeche at the far post, but the French full back hit his half volley horribly over. Hilton squandered an even better chance a couple of minutes later, shooting straight at McIntyre when he looked destined to put the Whites ahead from close range. But the attacking midfielder, recently back from a loan spell in Finland, broke Sunderland hearts in the first minute of stoppage time when he curled a lovely left-footed finish into the far corner after being allowed to turn inside the area.
SUNDERLAND UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): Trialist; Richardson, Newall, Younger, Almond; Wilding, Sohna; Kimpioka (Steels 59), Dyche, Wearne (Kelly 62); W. Harris. Subs (not used): Jessup, Bond, Chapman.
GOALS: W. Harris (36, pen 56), Dyche (64).
FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): T. Ashby-Hammond; Fossey, Larkeche, McAvoy, Odutayo; Page (Bowie 70), Pajaziti; L. Harris, Hilton, O’Neill; Ablade (Lanquedoc 90+3). Subs (not used): Las, Araujo.
GOALS: L. Harris (31), Ablade (50), Bowie (75), Hilton (90+1).