Fulham’s under 23s returned to winning ways with a comfortable victory over Birmingham City at Motspur Park tonight thanks to goals from Luke Harris, Adrion Pajaziti and Ollie O’Neill.

Steve Wigley’s champions had been beaten by Norwich City and held to a goalless draw at Middlesbrough since sealing promotion from Premier League 2 last month. A youthful looking starting eleven saw Alfie McNally promoted between the sticks and Devan Tanton also stepping up from under 18s alongside Charlie Robinson in the back four. Sixteen year-old Luke Harris operated on the left side of a fluid forward line – and the Welsh youth international didn’t take long to make his mark.

Harris headed home his thirteen goal of the season after just three minutes, outjumping Jay Williams to power Tanton’s deep cross past Zach Jeacock. Birmingham weren’t disheartened by their early setback and continued to play progressive and enterprising football. The impressive Jobe Bellingham drove wide from Jordan James’ free-kick, whilst an acrobatic overhead kick from Rico Browne went over.

After Jeacock had kept out Kieron Bowie’s effort, the visitors went ever so close to drawing level. Spanish midfielder Oriel Soldevila appeared certain to score when his low shot beat McNally but Idris Odutayo somehow cleared off the line and then blocked a follow-up from Bellingham. Fulham almost made the most of their good fortune at the other end after fine approach play from Jay Stansfield and Sonny Hilton set up Harris only for the youngster to sky his shot with the goal gaping.

Any regret at that miss quickly evaporated as Fulham’s high press from the goalkick saw Hilton strip Browne of possession and Pajaziti struck home a sweet second from the edge of the box. A two-goal cushion at half-time seemed harsh on Blues, who had posed plenty of problems for the young Whites in the first half, but it might have been even worse had Stansfield been able to turn in a cross from Hilton just before the break.

Birmingham attacked with renewed vigour after the interval and struck the frame of the goal twice as they sought an immediate response. George Hall rattled the crossbar with a left-footed strike and, after McNally had smartly denied Kieron Wakefield, an audacious long-range strike from James also bounced back off the bar. That was probably the clearest sign that it wasn’t going to be Birmingham’s day, although the visitors kept battling right until the end.

Stansfield started and almost finished a flowing move – heading fractionally wide having freed Sonny Hilton with a sublime through ball that showed just how the creative side of his game has developed since being deployed in the number ten role by Wigley. McNally then pushed away an effort from Soldevila at the near post before Jeacock tipped Jonathon Page’s drive from distance onto the woodwork.

Fulham added a third in the second minute of stoppage time when O’Neill converted from close range with Blues caught in transition after committing numbers forward in the closing stages. The Irish under-21 international’s composed finish demonstrated the ruthlessness that has characterised their season, but the final scoreline was very harsh on Steve Spooner’s side.

FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): McNally; Tanton, Larkeche, C. Robinson, Odutayo; Francois, Pajaziti (Page 75); Hilton, Stansfield, Harris; Bowie (O’Neill 70). Subs (not used): Borto, Bowat, Godo.

BOOKED: Odutayo, O’Neill.

GOALS: Harris (3), Pajaziti (38), O’Neill (90+2).

BIRMINGHAM CITY UNDER 23s (4-3-3): Jeacock; J. Williams, Masampu (Ogor 63), Oakley, Browne; Hall, James, Chang (Walker 63); Bellingham, Soldevila, Wakefield. Subs (not used): Brooks, Khela, Patterson.

BOOKED: Khela.

REFEREE: Gary Parsons.