A young Fulham side made the perfect start to their pre-season preparations as a penalty in either half from Neeskens Kebano and Harry Wilson gave the Whites an excellent win over Nice in the first game of the Algarve Trophy.
Marco Silva put his faith in a number of Fulham’s next generation offering a first senior start to under-23 stalwarts Idris Odutayo and Conor McAvoy at the heart of the back four, with Marlon Fossey lining up at right back. There was even a youthful look to Fulham’s attack with seventeen year-old Welsh midfielder Luke Harris playing behind Jay Stansfield. The Premier League new boys were the first to settle with a composed spell of possession football and they kept the ball for long periods against Lucien Favre’s lacklustre outfit.
McAvoy headed a free-kick into the arms of Teddy Boulhendi, before Marek Rodak stood firm to repel Badrerine Bouanani in a one-on-one. The boundless energy of Harrison Reed, who comprehensively won his duel with former Fulham loanee Mario Lemina in central midfield, soon engineered a opening for the Whites as he sped along the right flank and delivered a dangerous cut back that was diverted behind for a corner. Odutayo produced a splendid bit of covering defending to head brilliantly off his own line after Alexis Claude-Maurice volleyed powerfully past Rodak.
Harris and Stansfield linked up impressively in the final third and there were a number of close shaves for a Nice defensive line that was frequently found to be far too square. They couldn’t hold out until half time and Fulham’s opener owed much to the vision of Sylvester Jasper. The winger, back from a loan spell at Hibernian, picked up Harris with a lovely pass and the teenager drove into the box before being crudely chopped down by Youcef Atal. Kebano stepped up to calmly slot his spot kick inside the far post.
Rodak made another smart stop to prevent Bouanani from finding equaliser just before half time after a clever one-two with Claude-Maurice and Fulham’s first half display was especially encouraging for the mature nature of their discipline and devotion to Silva’s possession-based philosophy against a number of established names. Jasper was threatening again in the second period, forcing a sprawling save from former Chelsea keeper Marcin Bulka, who had earlier dealt with an Odutayo header.
Silva introduced new signings Joao Palhina and Andreas Pereira for their first Fulham appearance, but the French side were now throwing caution to the wind. Andy Delort sent a free header agonisingly wide from Antoine Mendy’s cross and saw a rising drive superbly tipped over the bar by Rodak as Nice sought an equaliser. Any hope of the Aiglons getting back into the contest evaporated when Jean-Clair Tobido dived in on Jasper, allowing Wilson to clinch an excellent victory by sending the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot.
On an excellent evening, Fulham even won the penalty shoot-out that followed the ninety minutes after Dante’s unsuccessful Paneka and there would have been plenty to please Silva in a composed display from such an experimental line-up. The Whites face Benfica in their second game of the tournament tonight.
OGC NICE (4-4-2): Boulhendi (Bulka 45); Atal (Mendy 60), Nahounou (Tobido 60), Daniliuc (Dante 60), Lotomba (Bard 60); Bouanani (Boudaoui 60), Belahyane (Rosario 60), Lemina (Traoré 45), Trouillet (Da Cunha 60); Claude-Maurice (Gouiri 60), Brahimi (Delort 60).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Fossey, McAvoy, Odutayo, A. Robinson (Bryan 62); Reed (Palhinha 71), Chalobah (Francois 62); Jasper, Kebano (Wilson 71), Harris (Pereira 79); Stansfield (Tiehi 79).
GOALS: Kebano (pen 41), Wilson (pen 83).
REFEREE: Helder Carvalho (Portugal).