A clinical finish from Jean-Pierre Tiehi and a late Jay Stansfield free-kick salvaged a point for Fulham’s under 18s in an entertaining clash with Aston Villa this afternoon.
Ravaged by injuries, Steve Wigley was forced to deploy four centre halves in an unusual line-up. The changes gave sixteen year-old Xavier Benjamin the opportunity to show his capabilities on the right of a diamond, with Scottish youth international Connor McAvoy filling in at right back due to the lack of options. There was also a start for promising keeper George Wickens, who returned after a five month injury lay-off. Young striker Stansfield started again after his impressive brace against Southampton last weekend.
Villa went in front after twenty minutes after forward DJ Campton-Sturridge took a theatrical tumble in the penalty area and earned a spot-kick. Hayden Lindley’s effort came back off the post but Charlie Farr was the quickest to react and fired home the loose ball. Wigley’s young side might have been dispirited but they fought back admirably. Jean-Pierre Tiehi continued his fine run of form, scoring his fourth goal in six games, with a delightful finish six minutes before half-time, but the forward was forced off with an injury after a crunching tackle – which saw him on crutches after the game – before the interval.
The introduction of Imani Lanquedoc saw Mika Biereth deployed as a striker alongside Jay Stansfield, having previously operated behind Stansfield and Tiehi up until the substitution. Villa were certainly physical in their approach, with several heavy challenges aimed at Stansfield in particular, for which the referee issued three yellow cards.
A disappointing lapse in defensive concentration allowed Campton-Sturridge to restore Villa’s lead ten minutes into the second half when he clinically converted Cameron Archer’s clever pass. Fulham looked uncharacteristically lethargic until wonderkid Michael Olakigbe, fresh from a sensational performance against Watford, was summoned from the bench. The winger made an almost immediate impact, waltzing past a couple of defenders and winning a free-kick just outside the area. Stansfield stepped up and found the net with the aid of a massive deflection – earning a point with two minutes to play despite a below-par performance.
Two superb strikes from Luca de la Torre and Fabio Carvalho secured Fulham’s under 23s first win in seven games as the young Whites saw off Aston Villa at Motspur Park last night.
After drawing a blank in four of their last five games, teenage striker Jay Stansfield was handed his first PL2 start after scoring in his only appearance off the bench against West Ham in the 3-3 draw in early December. Stansfield, fresh from signing his senior deal last week, almost made the perfect start but his predatory finish was ruled out with Carvalho adjudged offside in the build up.
Fulham were playing adventurous football and deservedly went in front in the 34th minute thanks to an incredible solo goal from American midfielder de la Torre. The classy turn and finish straight into the top corner ended his barren run of 13 games without a goal in some style.
The hosts were well on top throughout and the talented teenager Carvalho settled the contest with six minutes to play. personally seen live on the 84th minute. Sylvester Jasper teed up the England youth international who found the top corner with a modicum of fuss.
There was a welcome return from injury for Sonny Hilton, who showed glimpses of class as he acclimatised to match action again. Striker Cameron Thompson was an unused substitute having been sidelined since sustaining a muscle injury in early August.
Scottish centre back Connor McAvoy slotted in seamlessly to the under 23 back four having played the majority of the season for Steve Wigley’s U18’s team. Cody Drameh was comfortably the classiest player on the pitch, with the young right back showing a great attacking threat with his frightening pace, reminding me of one Ryan Fredericks. Cody excels defensively in one on one situations and almost laid on another goal for Hilton.
Arguably the most impressive aspect of Fulham’s performance was the fact that Villa were restricted to very little in front of goal. Magnus Norman was a virtual spectator – facing not even one shot on target – with Fulham completely possession. Up next for the U23s is a must win trip to Plymouth Argyle as they attempt to reach the next round of the PL Cup.
My man of the match: Cody Drameh
FULHAM U23s (4-2-3-1): Norman (6); Drameh (9), Fossey (6), McAvoy (7), Jenz (6); De Havilland (6), Francois (6); Hilton (6), de La Torre (8), Carvalho (8); Stansfield (6). Subs (not used): Las, Asare, Davis, Thompson.
Fulham’s academy is renowned for the development of outstanding young players and have been churning out accomplished footballers for many years now under the watchful eye of director Huw Jennings. Fulham fans don’t need to be reminded of the exploits of Ryan Sessegnon or Moussa Dembele, whilst both Marek Rodak and Steven Sessegnon have shown signs of being the next homegrown youngsters to slot into the senior side.
There is great excitement about the next generation of young talent currently making their way through the Motspur Park pathway. Both Jay Stansfield and Sylvester Jasper have starred for the under-18 side that is currently top of their Premier League division and the pair were rewarded for their outstanding form with first-team debuts by Scott Parker.
The depth of talent extends deeper still and, in this article, I’ve highlighted the progress of three outstanding under-16 talents, who have the potential to excel at the highest level for the Whites in the years to come.
Michael Olakigbe is a versatile winger, at home on either flank, and comfortable with both feet. The youngster plays his football with real flair and has made great progress since joining Fulham from QPR in the summer of 2018. Olakigbe honed his prodigious skills at the East Soccerbase Academy and he is eligible to represent either England or Nigeria at international level. At just 15, the fact that Olakigbe has made two appearances for the under-18s – scoring against Reading last Saturday – and he was named on the bench for the U23s against Stoke City as well.
Olakigbe hopes to emulate the stellar performances of Wilfried Zaha, who he considers his idol, in the Premier League in the future. You can’t fault his ambition, but given his undoubted talent you wouldn’t bet against him making his mark in the senior team in years to come.
Xavier Benjamin is a strong, athletic centre back, who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, making him ideally equipped to be a very modern defender. He has the confidence to dominate opposing forwards and is also vocal on the field of play, marking him out as leadership material in the future. and his vocal ability sets him up to be a leader in the future. Benjamin’s ball-playing ability means he is finely attuned to Fulham’s footballing philosophy and you can why the club have high hopes for him at this relatively early stage in his development.
Benjamin has already been sponsored by Puma, which is an unusual development at such a young age, but suggests that plenty of people have noted his talent. The centre back has already represented England at under-15 level and has already featured twice for the under-18 side this season. He was another youngster to be included on the bench for the recent PL2 fixture against Stoke at Craven Cottage and has shown character to battle back from an ankle injury, which interrupted his exposure to under-18 football. Benjamin believes he can go on to play Premier League football, although his immediate target will be laying claim to a regular spot in Steve Wigley’s side.
Stefan Parkes is a versatile full back, who usually plays on the left side of a back four. The youngster is yet another defender who is confident in possession and is viewed as one of the most promising prospects within the academy.
Parkes arrived from Brentford as an under-12 when the Griffin Park club opted to abolish their academy structure. The pathway for Parkes has already been set by the meteoric rise of the Sessegnon twins and he certainly has the ability to follow in their footsteps. He has already featured for the under-18s, breaking into the side at the tender age of fifteen last season and not looking at all out of place.
The full back has also had to come to terms with an injury that has limited his participation during this campaign, but his talent has not gone unnoticed. Parkes, already a regular in the England youth set-up, captained his country’s under-15s against Belgium and his composure and maturity has impressed plenty of observers. He recently played his first full ninety minutes against Tottenham for the under-18s and will have his sights set on continuing his outstanding development to date.
Fulham’s Under 18s return to FA Youth Cup action tonight with a tough fifth round trip to Manchester City, reliably considered one of the country’s finest academies. Steve Wigley’s charges should go into the contest full of confidence, though. They have lost just one of their fourteen league games this season – setting the pace at the top of the Premier League South standings – and with City leading the way in the North, the scene is set for a mouthwatering clash.
The man of the moment Jay Stansfield, whose outstanding form since his summer arrival from Exeter City has seen him elevated to the senior squad, will lead the line for Fulham at the Etihad Campus this evening fresh from signing professional terms with the club. The seventeen year-old striker has scored eighteen goals in eleven appearances for the under-18s this term and also netted on his under-23 debut against West Ham. His eye-catching debut in the FA Cup against Aston Villa was followed by a first senior league appearance in the closing stages at Charlton Athletic a couple of weeks ago and Stansfield’s consistency has seen him earn England honours as well. He scored a hat-trick against South Shields in the third round – and could be Fulham’s most potent threat should he be selected after missing the weekend win over Reading.
Fulham came through a tough tussle with Sheffield United in the fourth round, with full back Cody Drameh finishing off a flowing counter-attack after running fully 70 yards with the ball having helped the Whites clear a corner. Such was the quality of Drameh’s delightful strike that it was among the contenders for the Fulham January goal of the month award. Drameh, another of the promising right backs that the Fulham academy have produced of ate, has featured regularly for Mark Pembridge’s under-23 side and this is a common characteristic of the team that Wigley is likely to pick tonight, with seven of the starters against South Shields having seen some PL2 action this season.
Fulham’s key player could well be the prodigiously talented Fabio Carvalho, who has captained the under 18s on several occasions this season. The England youth international, who burst onto the scene with some superb performances in Fulham’s FA Youth Cup to the quarter finals in 2018, is excellent adept playing as a winger or a number ten and is having a sensational season so far. Carvalho has scored four goals and made five more in ten appearances for the under-18s, whilst four times in six starts at under-23 level as well. His guile, flair and vision will be crucial to unlocking the Manchester City defence this evening.
The consistently high level of young talent that comes through the Fulham academy is something of a marvel, with credit having to go to academy director Huw Jennings, Malcolm Elias and, of course, Wigley, who is now back in charge at under-18 level. This might just be the best crop of under-18s since the side that reached the final of the FA Youth Cup in 2014, a line-up that included the likes of Moussa Dembele, Patrick Roberts and Marek Rodak. City will prove a tough test, but there’s no reason why the Whites can’t progress further in the competition with another composed display.
The summer transfer window was always going to be crucial in enhancing Slavisa Jokanovic’s squad for the challenge of playing Premier League football. There are still signings to be made and parts of the squad to be strengthened, but we asked our newest writer Billy Wright to run the rule over the new arrivals to Craven Cottage so far.
Maxime Le Marchand
On Thursday 12th July 2018, the signing of French defender Maxim Le Marchand, 28 was completed. Maxime started his career at Rennes, before joining Le Havre, who are famous for developing players like N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez.He spent five years at Le Havre before moving onto Nice, which is where Fulham picked up from.
Maxime played as a left full-back for Nice last year and this could be where he plays for Fulham this season, unless Jokanovic adds more depth to his squad here in the final weeks of the season. While he performed very well as a left back for Nice last year, Maxime is more comfortable playing as a central defender,where he could partner Tim Ream. The only issue is that the both of them are left footed – and that might not give Jokanovic the kind of balance he would be hoping for in an ideal partnership.
The 6’1” defender is known for his composure on the ball and his passing which will only benefit Fulham’s possession style of football. Maxime and Tim Ream would be a great partnership in the heart of the defence – however bringing in a new left back is a must if this is to be the case.
Jean Michaël Seri
On the same day as signing Maxime, the Whites also managed to pull off what some have described as the signing of the summer already in Jean Michaël Seri. The 5’6” Ivorian performed splendidly for Nice last term and the comparison of his campaign to that of the much-vaunted Italian playmaker Marco Veratti is well worth considering:
Better pass completion from Seri
More assists per 90 minutes
More chances created per 90 mins
More key passses per 90 minutes
More duels won and less defensive errors per 90 mins
Jean Michaël Seri, known as ‘Mika’ by his team-mates will wear the number 24 for the Whites this season and he may elbow Stefan Johansen out of the first-team reckoning to team up with Kevin McDonald and captain Tom Cairney in midfield. I am thoroughly excited by the signing of Mika and can’t wait to see him play pull on the white shirt competitively for the first team when Fulham’s Premier League season gets underway against Crystal Palace in August.
Fabricio Agosto Ramirez
The signing of Fabricio Agosto Ramirez, 30, commonly known as ‘Fabri’ was completed on 24th July. This is a smart signing in my opinion as he provides very strong competition to Marcus Bettinelli. Bettinelli played very well on his return to the Fulham side last year, becoming a crucial member of the team that eventually achieved promotion back to the top flight, but there are doubts about whether he possesses Premier League quality.
Fabri signed for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be around £5 million from Turkish side Besiktas. After seeing how the Turkish fans have reacted to the news that their beloved Fabri was moving to SW6, there should be some real optimism about this latest addition. With recent Champions League experience in his locker, Fabri looks like a fantastic signing and, like the capture of Seri, this is a real statement of intent. I can’t wait to see how Fabri goes about his business in goal for the whites next year!