A late flurry of goals saw Fulham inch ever closer to qualification for the quarter finals of the Premier League Cup with victory over a stubborn Southend United side at Motspur Park tonight.
Steve Wigley’s side took an early lead through Kieron Bowie but were made to wait until the final five minutes before making sure of their thirteenth win in fourteen games by brilliant goalkeeping from the Shrimpers’ Collin Andeng-Ndi. The Cameroonian custodian kept the hosts at bay until Ollie O’Neill found the bottom corner with an assured finish after outstanding approach play down the right flank from Luciano D’Auria-Henry and Sonny Hilton.
That sparked a spell of two further goals as Fulham gave the scoreline a more resounding look. Bowie burst down the left wing immediately and Steven Sessegnon arrived at the back post to fire home before Jean-Pierre Tiehi followed up Adrion Pajaziti’s fierce drive to score his first goal since rejoining the club in September. A four goal margin was harsh on Southend, whose diligent defending and clever counter attacks made this a far more uncomfortable evening for the young Whites than many had predicted.
Andeng-Ndi’s only mistake came in the first minute when he was booked for clattering into Bowie as the former Raith forward looked likely to convert a sweeping Sessegnon ball. He made a terrific stop to keep a 25-yarder from Sessegnon before being beaten by Bowie, who made light of an acute to lash a finish high into the net after brilliant link-up play between Marlon Fossey and Hilton.
O’Neill drilled just over from outside the area before being thwarted by a brave save from Andeng-Ndi after a fine run from Fossey and Idris Odutayo had an effort ruled off by an offside flag. Fulham finished the half strongly with the Southend keeper saving well from Fossey and Hilton, but the visitors almost snatched an equaliser in added time when Damien Las kept out a powerful drive from Cameron Brown.
Southend clearly took heart from that as they came out with added intent after the interval. Las did brilliantly to turn aside an audacious strike from O’Shane Stewart and the visitors thought they had levelled matters from the resultant corner. Ergis Shala felt his firm header had crossed the line before Las clawed it clear, but the referee waved away the Albanian’s appeals. Luke Reeve came close to connecting with a dangerous Tom Clifford free-kick before Fulham pushed the Seasiders’ back..
D’Auria-Henry, who replaced the returning Tyrese Francois at half time, extended Andeng-Ndi with a long-range strike and Bowie was thwarted by the visiting goalkeeper when he looked likely to bury Hilton’s gorgeously weighted through ball. Hilton then had an effort cleared off the line by Jaden Crowhurst before Sessegnon skied over from eight yards as the hosts searched for a second.
Tiehi had two good chances in two minutes – contriving to shoot wide after being teed up by fancy footwork from O’Neill and then seeing Andeng-Ndi palm a low drive around the post – and Hilton drilled one straight at the Southend number one. O’Neill made no mistake from ten yards with six minutes left and there was the cue for the away side’s brave resistance to crumble somewhat, although they should still plenty of heart from their evening of impressive defending.
FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): Las; Fossey, S. Sessegnon, Mawson, Odutayo; Francois (D’Auria-Henry 45), Pajaziti; Hilton, Bowie, O’Neill; Tiehi. Subs (not used): Allen, McAvoy, Ablade.
GOALS: Bowie (11), O’Neill (85), S. Sessegnon (86), Tiehi (90).
SOUTHEND UNDER 23s (4-5-1): Andeng-Ndi; Crowhurst, Clifford (Arrowsmith 71), Reeve (Droney 64), Shala; Stewart, Brown, Anyadike (Williams 85), Garzon, Unwin; Lambourne. Subs (not used): Grossart, Quamina.