A second half brace from Ollie O’Neill saw Fulham’s under 23s beat West Brom 4-2 at the New Bucks Head tonight and extend their lead at the top of the PL2 Second Division to a commanding eleven points.
The young Baggies side had been unbeaten in Telford all season and earned a share of the spoils at half time courtesy of a fine strike from Mo Faal and Jamie Andrews’ penalty after Adrion Pajaziti and Sonny Hilton had twice put Steve Wigley’s visitors in front. It was Republic of Ireland under-21 international O’Neill who turned the game decisively in Fulham’s favour in the final quarter. The classy midfielder fired a low finish into the corner to complete a flowing move and five minutes later drove in a second to settle matters.
Albion had began brightly with Reyes Cleary tested George Wickens inside the first minute and the Fulham goalkeeper was called upon again to deny Cleary with a diving stop. At the other end, the visitors almost scored with their first opportunity when Kieron Bowie took advantage of a fortunate ricochet off Aurio Teixeira to round Alex Palmer but the Scottish striker lost his balance and missed the target altogether.
Wickens then made a fine sprawling save to keep out Faal’s header after brilliant play by Fellows and Cleary along the Albion left and the visitors quickly made West Brom pay. Pajaziti’s piledriver from distance after a half cleared corner was unstoppable – it screamed past Palmer and into the far corner to give the Londoners the lead. Tom Fellows almost equalised for the Baggies after being played in by Andrews but Charlie Robinson did brilliantly to clear off his own line.
They did draw level six minutes before the break when classical hold up play saw Cleary create the simplest of openings for Faal, who beat Wickens from close range with a modicum of fuss. In a crazy finale to the first half, Fulham regained and lost the lead in the space of sixty seconds. In-form Sonny Hilton pounced on a defensive mistake to fire the young Whites ahead but Cleary cleverly won a spot-kick from the hosts’ very next attack, which was emphatically converted by Andrews.
The second period was an altogether more cagey affair as both teams probed patiently for an opening. Eighteen year-old O’Neill, who has really come into his own under Wigley’s tutelage this season, eventually broke through the Baggies defence to ensure Fulham build up a healthy cushion at the top of the table heading into Christmas.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION UNDER 23s (3-4-3): Palmer; Williams, Ashworth, Taylor; Ingram, Fellows, Teixeira, Andrews; Windsor (R. Richards 63), Faal (Okoko 63), Cleary. Subs (not used): Ciise, Joshua.
GOAL: Faal (39), Andrews (pen 42).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Wickens; S. Sessegnon (D’Auria-Henry 33), Larkeche (Page 80), C. Robinson, Odutayo; Francois, Pajaziti; Hilton, O’Neill, Dibley-Dias; Bowie (Tiehi 88). Subs (not used): Allen, Bowat.
GOAL: Pajaziti (19), Hilton (40), O’Neill (69, 74).