A first half brace from Dominic Ballard secured a routine win for high-flying Southampton over Fulham’s under 18s at the Staplewood Training Centre this afternoon.
Fulham struggled to get their fluent passing game going for much of the afternoon and it was the home side who had the better of the early chances. Saints went close through Tyler Dibling after the winger had drifted in from the right flank and Ballard blasted an effort straight at Xavier Benjamin before Alex Borto produced a brilliant reaction stop to keep out Kamari Doyle’s fine volley.
The hosts were now putting the Fulham goal under significant pressure and it was no surprise when they took the lead after 26 minutes. Ballard had the simplest of tasks to slot home after Cameron Bragg’s venomous drive from distance had rattled the crossbar and the young Whites were indebted to some calm defending from Benjamin, which prevented Doyle from doubling the Southampton advantage.
But Ali Melloul’s men did go further behind just before the interval. Dibling darted past Luc de Fougerolles and squared for Ballard, who stroked home his seventh goal of the season. Southampton were well on top and might have added to their advantage after the break but Luke Pearce shot straight at Borto from a promising position, whilst Doyle drove a free-kick just wide of the target.
Fulham struggled for openings in the final third during a second half which the home side controlled, despite Melloul sending on Lemar Gordon, Stefan Parkes and Terrell Works as substitutes. He will hope that the young Whites can pick themselves up ahead of Friday’s third round FA Youth Cup tie at Everton.
Fulham’s under 23s showed great character to come from behind and beat Wolverhampton Wanderers to extend their winning run to eight league games in a gripping contest at Motspur Park on Friday night.
Steve Wigley’s side, which saw Steven Sessegnon line up at left back and promising teenage midfielder Luke Harris start again in the engine room, begin brightly with Adrion Pazajiti having an early sighter scrambled away by the Wolves defence but the visitors went ahead after ten minutes. A terrific move culminated in a fine cross from Dexter Lembikisa finding Harvey Griffiths, who curled an unstoppable effort into the top corner.
Fulham were briefly perturbed by going a goal down, but Matt Dibley-Dias fashioned a good chance ten minutes later. The classy midfielder’s clipped ball over the top released Terry Ablade but Louie Moulden smothered the striker’s attempted dink over the goalkeeper. Sessegnon then let fly from long range but the Wolves stopper easily fielded that effort as well.
The hosts were back on level terms just before the half hour mark. A patient Fulham move involved both full backs with Sessegnon finding Marlon Fossey and the American teed up Sonny Hilton, who fired in his fifth goal of the season. The winger made the goal that put Fulham in front just before the break when his corner came off a Wolves defender and fell nicely for Harris to head home at the back post.
Fulham went in search of a third and Moulden denied Ablade with a stunning save from the forward’s fierce volley, but was beaten from another set piece. Hilton again supplied the delivery with Dibley-Dias adding a flick on at the near post before an unmarked Charlie Robinson nodded in at the far post to give the Whites a commanding cushion at the interval.
The young Whites nearly extended their advantage early in the second half but Ablade was denied the chance of finishing Ollie O’Neill’s excellent cross by a terrific piece of defending by Ollie TIpton. The visitors came close to getting right back into the contest when Damien Las was forced into a smart save from Griffiths’ header and Wolves did make a game of it with ten minutes left when Lee Harkin prodded over the line from Harry Birtwhistle’s cross.
Fulham nearly restored their two-goal lead immediately but the lively Ablade saw his header tipped over by Moulden. Wolves then almost equalised with a cleverly-worked free-kick but Las showed his agility to keep out Owen Hesketh’s effort. The home side made sure of all three points two minutes from time when Sessegnon cut in from the left flank and fired in a fourth off his stronger right foot.
FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): Las; Fossey, S. Sessegnon, C. Robinson, Odutayo; Pajaziti (Bowie 83), Dibley-Dias; Hilton, O’Neill, Harris; Ablade. Subs (not used): McNally, Araujo, Tiehi.
BOOKED: O’Neill, Odutayo.
GOALS: Hilton (29), Harris (38), C. Robinson (43), S. Sessegnon (88).
The Fulham captain came off the bench to add creativity to the home midfielder and produced a peach of cross to provide the equaliser for Tosin Adarabioyo with just six minutes left. He felt Marco Silva’s men deserved a half time lead having watched an absorbing contest from the sidelines initially. Cairney told FFCTV last night:
“I think it was a proper game of football. Atmosphere, intensity, chances, tackles – everything you want in an entertaining game. Had a bit of drama, opportunities missed, goals we should have scored. It was entertaining for fans. I feel like when you were playing in a top of table clash, you need to score when you were on top. We needed to score first half, we deserved to score. They cleared it, last ditch tackles and we were so unfortunate to go in 0-0.”
The midfielder acknowledged the quality of the training ground that led to Dominic Solanke’s opener seconds after the interval.
“It was quite surreal actually. On one hand, you’ve got to give a bit of credit to Bournemouth because it was a great move and a great pass. From our point of view, it’s a little bit sloppy, it’s sleepy, not seeing the run. You have to give a bit of credit to them for the goal.”
Cairney was pleased to tilt the contest back towards Fulham with a high-energy cameo after replacing Jean-Michael Seri with twenty minutes to go and most of the league leaders chances came through the movement and vision of their number ten.
“I came on, 1-0 down, you come on the pitch you feel like you need to make an impact and make something something happen. They were getting deeper, just tried to get around the box, hopefully get a shot off and get a goal. I was hoping Kebano was going to score when I put him in, that would have been nice, but it was great for Tosin to get his first goal. The ball worked to the edge of the box on the right hand side, when you see Mitro and Tosin in the box you just need to feel it in there. It was a good ball and a great header.
He praised Fulham’s fans for creating such a red hot atmosphere and another memorable moment at the Hammersmith End.
“Oh, it was brilliant. The atmosphere was the best it has been this season by far – and that’s without a stand. Imagine if it was full? It would have been an absolute joke. It is an amazing feeling, kicking to that end. It feels like they are sucking the ball into the goal when it is like that. It was a good moment.”
Cairney felt Fulham could have nicked it in the closing stages, but he believes there were plenty of positives to take from a dominant display.
“I feel like if the game went on five minutes longer we could have scored another. They were getting deeper and deeper and we were piling the pressure on. I think overall you’ve got to be happy with the performance, the intensity and possession we had. Obviously, it’s three draws in a row, which obviously we don’t want, but you’re top of the league, you can’t be too greedy. Nothing’s won and lost in December. We keep going.”
Marco Silva’s side were on the front foot for much of the contest but had to settle for a point as Adarabioyo’s glancing header six minutes from time cancelled out Dom Solanke’s opener seconds after half time. Adarabioyo told FFC TV after the final whistle:
“It’s still a point gained. It’s another point on the table, unfortunately we couldn’t get the three points but we keep going. It was just another one of those games were we created a lot of chances. I think we had 24 shots, but we didn’t manage to get the goals we needed.”
The former Manchester City man was disappointed with the way Fulham conceded to a training ground move seven seconds after the restart, but felt his side’s response showed how determined they way not to give up any ground in the promotion race.
“It was quick after half time. It was obviously something they had worked on, it worked out perfectly. Again, on our side we have to sniff that out better. All the boys were on it today. We were motivated to get the three points, we only managed to get one but again it was great to get a point.”
The centre half was overjoyed to finally score his first goal for the club, guiding home a terrific cross from Tom Cairney and played down the significance of his mocking of Solanke’s trademark bow and arrow celebration as the Bournemouth striker is a close friend.
“Definitely. Hopefully, it will be the first of a few. The ball was around the edge of the box for a while, checked my shoulder tried to move into a bit of space and the ball lands onto my head, just flicked it on and it went in at the far post. To finally get the goal was really good. It was a great moment. Dom Solanke is one of my best friends – so it was just a bit of banter.”
Adarabioyo’s target remains keeping Fulham clear at the top of the table as the Whites begin to contemplate the festive fixtures.
“It’s another a point, we’re top of the table and we keep moving. It’s very tough to go ten games unbeaten. Hopefully, it can continue.”
Marco Silva insisted Fulham deserved more than the draw they got against Bournemouth in the top of the table Championship clash at Craven Cottage this evening.
The hosts dominated much of an absorbing contest but fell behind right at the start of the second half with Dominic Solanke finishing off a sensational Bournemouth move from the restart. Silva was bitterly disappointed with how his side conceded the goal, but hailed their powers of recovery to wrestle a point back at the death. He told his post-match press conference after the final whistle:
“A good game, two strong sides on the pitch. We didn’t change anything like we are doing so far. They came here with a different strategy, they changed a little bit the formation, to be a little bit more compact in that middle zone, the way they tried to build with four midfielders instead of three and just two players in the attack line.
“First five minutes, we took some time to adapt and after that we start to control the game. We knew before the match we could not lose the balance because they will be strong in that moment. First half was a bit more balanced with the chances that we created and I think we deserved more, we deserved a clear 2-0 lead in the score at half time.
The only thing I didn’t like, we lost for two seconds our focus and discipline in our organisation and they punished us. We cannot concede a goal like we conceded from the kick-off, our backline slept completely in the moment. But I’m proud really of the way they reacted. I’m really proud of our fans and how they helped us and pushed us.
What we did against a really strong side, the stats are there. We pushed them back, there are 10 players around their box and we created chances and chances to score. At the end we scored, we clearly deserved more from the game. We were the best team on the pitch.”
The Fulham head coach hailed the impact of his substitutes, Tom Cairney and Bobby Decordova-Reid, who added greater incisiveness to the Whites’ attacks in the final twenty minutes. Cairney created Fulham’s equaliser and Silva was delighted with how his changes made the difference.
“Both players made a big impact in the game. It is something we planned, Tom and Bobby made a big impact on the game and we expected that. Tom with his quality, Bobby to put a bit more fresh legs in that right side with Harry Wilson, and we started to create a lot of problems for them.”