Fulham’s under 23s roared back from a goal down to beat Southend United 3-1 as they opened their Premier League Cup campaign in some style at Roots Hall tonight.
The home side made a bright start, dominating possession and having the better of the early chances before a superb long-range strike from O’Shane Stewart. Fulham only half cleared a corner and the Shrimpers’ midfielder found the bottom corner with a majestic first-time volley from twenty yards out. It was exactly what Phil Brown’s men deserved after they had been denied strong appeals for an early penalty when Louis Walsh went down in the box and Tommy Davis was denied a headed opener by a brilliant Taye Ashby-Hammond save.
The home side could have gone further in front before half time but Jimmy Wallace’s drive was blocked after a Southend corner caused consternation in the Fulham box. The visitors had struggled to play their usual fluent football and Steve Wigley introduced Delano McCoy for Olly Sanderson at half-time to stiffen up the Fulham midfield.
The change had an immediate effect, as after Jon Benten had drilled a speculative shot wide from 25 yards, Fulham equalised five minutes after the interval. In-form creative midfielder Sonny Hilton levelled matters with a low drive that was deflected past goalkeeper Collin Andeng Ndi on its way into bottom corner. Hilton was only denied a second after a lightning break from a home corner by a brave block from Walsh.
Southend keeper Andeng-Ndi then made a brilliant double save to deny Ollie O’Neill and Luke Harris from the follow-up. The game was now a much more open affair and Wallace sent a free header wide from a dangerous Gard corner. Fulham went up the other end and took the lead when Conor McAvoy found Hilton with a brilliant ball from the back. The little playmaker split the Southend defence with a through ball that released O’Neill and the Irish midfielder slid a low finish under the advancing Andeng-Ndi from twelve yards.
Hilton might have made the game safe three minutes later after bursting through on goal but was thwarted by a fine reaction save from Andeng-Ndi. Substitute Charlie Robinson wrapped up the victory with an emphatic header from O’Neill’s cross with five minutes remaining and Hilton almost volleyed in a fourth from close range in added time.
Fulham’s second Group H game sees them take on Stoke City at Motspur Park on Friday 8th October.
SOUTHEND UNITED UNDER 23s (4-5-1): Andeng-Ndi; Howard, Sayers, Davis, Wallace; Stewart, Gard (Brown 70), Benton, Atkinson (Unwin 80), Walsh; Rush. Subs (not used): Purcell, Chandler, Anyadike.
GOAL: Stewart (23).
FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): T. Ashby-Hammond; Tanton (C. Robinson 82), Araujo, McAvoy, Odutayo; Harris, O’Neill; Hilton, Bowie, Lanquedoc; Sanderson (McCoy-Splatt 45). Subs (not used): Las, Canton, Wildbore.
GOALS: Hilton (50), O’Neill (73), C. Robinson (85).