Sonny Hilton scored an 85th penalty as Fulham’s under 23s came from behind to see off a spirited Nottingham Forest and consolidate their grip on top spot in the Premier League 2 Division 2.
Steve Wigley’s side’s unbeaten home record appeared in real jeopardy when Ollie Hammond crashed in a tremendous long-range strike to give the visitors the lead. That was a fitting reward for Forest’s enterprising start that had seen Will Swan head into the arms of Taye Ashby-Hammond in the opening seconds and Ateef Konate drag a drive inches wide. Fulham, with a side that featured Terence Kongolo and Domingos Quina, struggled for their usual fluency with two efforts from Adrion Pajaziti the closest they came to mustering a response.
Forest might well have been two up before the break but Josh Barnes fired wildly over at the far post after Fulham had failed to decisively clear a corner. The away side continued to look dangerous at the start of the second half with Ashby-Hammond having to be at full stretch to push a Swan shot aside for a corner. Hilton seemed like Fulham’s most likely source of an equaliser and his instinctive effort from distance was brilliantly kept out by Nicky Hogarth.
Jean-Pierre Tiehi couldn’t make a telling contact on the end of a teasing Quina cross as the hosts upped the ante and substitute Kieron Bowie bulldozed his way through the Forest defence just moments after coming off the bench but shot fractionally wide of the far post. Fulham were penning their opposition back now and they got their reward midway through the second half. Ziyad Larkeche roamed forward from left back and his speculative shot was deflected past the unfortunate Hogarth.
The Forest goalkeeper made a brilliant instinctive save with his legs to prevent Bowie from putting Fulham in front, but the Scot still had a telling role to play in the outcome of this tense fixture. The former Raith Rovers forward floated a beautiful ball over the away defence that Terry Ablade sped onto and the Finnish forward was brought down by Hogarth as he bore down on goal. Hilton took responsibility from twelve yards, calmly placing his penalty into the corner to give the young Whites the lead with five minutes remaining.
Wigley’s side held out for another impressive home victory, which drew on all their reserves of character. Fulham are now four points clear of West Brom at the top of the table, with the Baggies due to take on Stoke City on Monday afternoon.
FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): T. Ashby-Hammond; Fossey, Larkeche, Odutayo, Kongolo; Page, Pajaziti; Hilton, O’Neill, Quina (Ablade 56); Tiehi (Bowie 56). Subs (not used): McNally, C. Robinson, Harris.
GOAL: Larkeche (66), Hilton (pen 85).
NOTTINGHAM FOREST UNDER 23s (4-3-1-2): Hogarth; Back, Donnelly, Richardson (Fernandes 86), Sanders; Fornah, Barnes, Hammond (Gibson-Hammond 71); Konate; Swan, Larsson. Subs (not used): Akers, Fewster, Salmon.
BOOKED: Larsson, Konate, Hogarth
GOAL: Hammond (27).