The returning Luciano D’Auria-Henry poached a close-range winner as Fulham’s under 23s secured a sixth successive victory by beating Burnley 2-1 at Leyland this evening. Substitute D’Auria-Henry, making just his second appearance of an injury-ravaged season, popped up at the back post to fire Marlon Fossey’s fine cross home and settle a very even contest.

Teenage attacking midfielder Matt Dibley-Dias, the star of the show throughout, had given the visitors the lead three minutes into the second period with a looping header over Burnley keeper Sam Waller from a floated ball in by Sonny Hilton. But seventeen year-old striker Michael Mellon nodded home his fifteen goal of a prolific campaign from Owen Dodgson’s corner and at that stage the young Clarets look well-placed to extend their own unbeaten run to eight matches.

D’Auria-Henry, restored to a midfield role he had occupied when playing for Fulham’s junior sides, showed serious predatory instincts to profit from a dangerous Fossey cross as the visitors regained the lead. They had a glorious opportunity to further their advantage moments later when Kieron Bowie was brought down by Bobby Thomas, but Waller made a splendid reaction save from Connor McAvoy’s penalty. The Whites braved a late Burnley onslaught – with Fabri saving well from Mellon and punching away a late free-kick – to lengthen their lead at the top of the Second Division to seven points.

Wigley made a number of changes with international call-ups depriving him of his usual line-up. Jay Williams partnered McAvoy in central defence, with Idris Odutayo lining up at left back. Steven Sessegnon, who enjoyed a quietly efficient evening in the engine room, and Adrion Pajaziti were again paired together in the middle of the park. In the absence of Jay Stansfield and Terry Ablade, Jean-Pierre Tiehi led the line with Dibley-Dias operating as the number ten and the classy midfielder took his opportunity to step up impressively. Referee David Richardson ruled out an early Williams header for an infringement at a corner and Tiehi was booked for querying the decision.

Burnley arguably edged the opening twenty minutes with Dale Stephens curling a free-kick fractionally over the bar from 23 yards with Fabri grasping at thin air. Jacob Bedau then produced a brave block to deny Dibley-Dias as the teenager drove into the home penalty area. The hosts had another lucky escape when a Hilton corner produced an almighty goalmouth scramble but neither Tiehi nor Bowie could turn the ball home. Hilton, a lively presence on the left flank, almost broke the deadlock a minute before the interval but was denied by a stretching Waller save after cutting inside.

The young Whites didn’t have to wait long for the opener after the resumption, though. Hilton, now popping up on the right wing, clipped in a cross that Dibley-Dias directed over Waller and into the top corner with his head. It was quite a way for the elegant midfielder to cap an accomplished under-23 debut. He nearly added a second seven minutes later but his snapshot was deflected behind by Thomas.

Burnley still posed a threat going forward with Joe McGlynn unfortunate not to be able to turn home Dodgson’s cross after bringing the ball under control beautifully. After Finn Armstrong had surged down the right flank to win a corner, Mellon rose highest to glance Dogson’s set piece into the far corner and bring Steve Stone’s side level.

But Fulham showed great character to go back in front with D’Auria-Henry making a dream return just seven minutes after stepping off the bench to replace Tiehi. He found himself free at the far post to meet Fossey’s low ball in and produced an emphatic finish. Waller then prevented the visitors from making it 3-1 when he dived to his left to claw away McAvoy’s penalty after Bowie had been brought down in the box.

Hilton screwed a shot wide at the far post in the closing stages before Burnley roused themselves for a concerted assault on the Fulham goal. Mellon shot straight at Fabri from just outside the area after space opened up in front of him and the Spanish keeper charged off his line to fist away a late free-kick as Fulham saw out five minutes of added time.

BURNLEY UNDER 23s (4-4-2): Waller; Armstrong, Glennon, Thomas, Bedeau; Helm, Stephens (Woods 45), Dodgson, Tucker (Thompson 72); Mellon, McGlynn (Costelloe 81). Subs: Allen, Rooney.

GOAL: Mellon (64).

FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): Fabri; Fossey, Odutayo, Williams, McAvoy; S. Sessegnon, Pajaziti; Bowie (Sanderson 80), Hilton, Dibley-Dias (C. Robinson 88); Tiehi (D’Auria-Henry 62). Subs: McNally, C. Robinson.

BOOKED: Tiehi.

GOALS: Dibley-Dias (48), D’Auria-Henry (69).

REFEREE: David Richardson.