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Saints pile on the agony

If Scott Parker was seeking some solace on the south coast after Fulham succumbed to relegation earlier this week, it didn’t arrive at St. Mary’s. Southampton swept to a comfortable victory – their margin established by Che Adams’ first half strike and a first Saints goal for Nathan Tella seconds after coming off the bench – that emphasised the size of the rebuild required in west London this summer as the Championship beckons. Even the silver lining of a first senior goal for talented teenager Fabio Carvalho, which briefly threatened an unlucky comeback, was swiftly followed by a strike from substitute Theo Walcott to put clear water between the sides once again.

Parker’s caustic comments following relegation – and his assertion in a pre-match press conference that he had yet to speak with the club’s ownership – suggested that his own future is still to be resolved. Fulham have plenty of business to take care of behind the scenes, but the absence of a genuine striker from the start, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Josh Maja left on the bench, meant this side had an experimental look. In truth, with both sides have little to play for, this resembled a low-key pre-season friendly – and there was very little quality in front of goal in a turgid first half.

Referee Craig Pawson seemed to enter into the charitable spirit, ignoring a succession of hefty tackles before eventually cautioning Joachim Andersen for a clumsy foul near to the by-line on Stuart Armstrong. That allowed James Ward-Prowse to whip in one of his dangerous set pieces and Fulham’s defending from the free-kick was shambolic. Adams didn’t need to do anything special to lose Ola Aina, who had one of his poorest games in a Fulham shirt, and sweep a half volley into the net from six yards out.

Ward-Prowse was then denied a trademark free-kick goal, with Alphonse Areola making a magnificent save and, right at the end of the half, Danny Ings almost doubled Saints’ lead. The forward latched onto a precise pass from Takumi Minamino, kept his feet to round the goalkeeper but his cross-cum-shot was headed clear by Joachim Andersen. Fulham’s brightest moments came from Carvalho, whose energy around the penalty area kept the home defence occupied, but his shot after a clever backheel from Ivan Cavaleiro lacked the power necessary to beat Alex McCarthy.

The second half followed a similar pattern. Fulham saw plenty of possession, but as so often during this campaign, couldn’t find enough penetration in the final third. Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side didn’t have that problem and might have been further in front shortly after the interval only for Areola to deny Nathan Redmond after the winger had cut in dangerously from the left flank. You felt a second goal wasn’t long in coming and it arrived after a slick move that followed Bobby Decordova-Reid giving the ball away and saw a purposeful run from Armstrong find Kyle Walker-Peters down the right and the full-back’s low cross put a simple finish on a plate for the recently introduced Tella.

A few brave blocks prevented Fulham from getting a foothold in the contest. Decordova-Reid produced a gorgeous pass to unlock the Southampton defence only for Jack Stephens to deny Cavaleiro and Salisu arrived just in the nick of time to close down Decordova-Reid when he went through on goal. Joe Bryan drilled an effort wide from long range, but Fulham’s likeliest source of goal still looked like Carvalho, who had been switched to a number ten role in the second period.

The Lisbon-born England youth international had sparkled on a couple of senior substitute appearances earlier in the season after stellar displays for Fulham’s under 18 and under 23 sides and he lit up his first Premier League start with a smartly taken goal in the 75th minute. Having began the move around the halfway line, Carvalho surged away from Stevens to reach Decordova-Reid’s through ball and fired high into the net. Having scored on his debut for Fulham’s under 16s, under 18s and under 23s, perhaps we should have expected this precocious talent to find a way to mark this auspicious occasion, but it was still a special moment.

Any hope of a stirring comeback quickly evaporated when Walcott grabbed a third with eight minutes left. It was too easy for Southampton to play through the remnants of the away side’s defence – Armstrong’s probing ball brought the lively Tella into play and the youngster unselfishly laid it off from a shooting position for Walcott, with an untimely deflection off the unfortunate Bryan leaving Areola with no chance. Carvalho’s cameo might have been pleasing but there can be no getting away from the fact that Fulham have exited the top flight with a whimper at odds with all their fighting talk.

SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-2): McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Salisu, Stephens, Vestergaard; Ward-Prowse, Armstrong (Diallo 78), Minamino (Walcott 76), Redmond; Ings (Tella 58), Adams. Subs (not used): Forster, Ferry, Ramsay, Djenepo, Obafemi, N’Lundulu.

GOALS: Adams (27), Tella (60), Walcott (82).

FULHAM (3-4-2-1): Areola; Tete, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro, Aina (Bryan 62), Reed; Anguissa (Lookman 63), Onomah; Carvalho. Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Odoi, Ream, Loftus-Cheek, Mitrovic.

BOOKED: Andersen.

GOAL: Carvalho (75).

REFEREE: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).

Fulham U18s clinch consecutive titles

Fulham’s under 18s secured back-to-back Premier League south titles with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Chelsea this morning. Steve Wigley’s youngsters ended a thrilling battle with Crystal Palace by claiming the championship on goal difference after goals from Jay Stansfield, Mika Biereth and Luke Harris saw the young Whites claim the local bragging rights in fine style.

Young striker Stansfield, who has seen his season interrupted by a troublesome ankle injury, settled any nerves at Cobham by firing into the roof of the net from an acute angle after Biereth had helped on Adrion Pajaziti’s header. The visitors then soaked up a spell of prolonged Chelsea pressure before strikes from distance by the impressive Ollie O’Neill and Pajaziti ensured that Fulham ended the half on the front foot.

Joe Haigh came close to levelling matters just after the break but Fulham responded with some fluent football of their own and Pajaziti hammered an effort against the woodwork from twelve yards out after excellent work from Biereth. Kieron Bowie’s near post drive was kept out by Lucas Bergstrom, before Chelsea ramped up the pressure again and Alex Borto produced an excellent save from Haigh to preserve Fulham’s lead.

Biereth almost fashioned a second for the away side after some more silky skills took him away from a couple of Chelsea tacklers. His cross was smuggled away from the onrushing Pajaziti but the clearance fell kindly from Stansfield, who was disappointed not to hit the target. Fortunately, that miss was not to prove too costly. Biereth breezed through the middle of the Chelsea defence and kept his cool as he went through on goal, rolling home his 21st league goal of the campaign to give the young Whites real breathing space.

Any doubt about the destination of the title was extinguished when Biereth burst away on the break again and supplied a low cross for substitute Luke Harris to drive home at the near post. Winning back-to-back league titles in such an impressive manner speaks volumes about the quality of Fulham’s academy under Huw Jennings and several of these young starlets should stand a great chance of progressing into the senior set-up when the Championship campaign gets underway in August.

FULHAM UNDER 18s (4-3-3): Borto; D’Auria-Henry, Parkes (Williams 83), Bowat, Odutayo; Dibley-Dias, O’Neill, Pajaziti; Bowie (Harris 62), Biereth, Stansfield (Lanquedoc 76). Subs (not used): Trialist, Sanderson.

GOALS: Stansfield (21), Biereth (66), Harris (73).

Burnley put Fulham out of their misery

In the end, Fulham went with a whimper. For all Scott Parker’s fighting talk, the writing has been on the wall at Craven Cottage for a while. You could argue that one of the division’s youngest managers had done very well to leave the Whites with a fighting chance of survival after Fulham’s horrendous start to the season, but a team that had scrapped impressively to give themselves a glimmer of a great escape collapsed alarmingly when presented with opportunities to pile pressure on relegation rivals.

Against a streetwise Burnley side, tonight’s defeat was a microcosm of a mediocre season. There was – as usual – plenty of possession and patient probing but precious little in the way of penetration or decent service for Aleskandar Mitrovic to attack. The Serbian has been badly under utilised during this campaign – with fitness, confidence and Covid all having a part to play in that – but Parker’s reversion to a safety-first approach in order to stay in games rather than win them has left Fulham facing groundhog day repeatedly in the final weeks of this campaign.

The last rites were painful but administered efficiently. Sean Dyche’s gameplan was expertly executed and such was the gulf in class in the final third – that you couldn’t quibble with the Clarets holding a two-goal lead by half time courtesy of strikes from Ashley Westwood and New Zealand striker Chris Wood. Fulham began reasonably brightly, with an alert piece of defending from James Tarkowski preventing Ademola Lookman from stealing an early goal, and Ivan Cavaleiro bringing Nick Pope into action at his near post – but the Clarets quickly imposed themselves on proceedings.

Fulham’s margin for error had evaporated in recent weeks and you could sense the nerves amongst their backline as Burnley gradually got numbers forward. There was a lucky escape when a Wood diving header rebounded wide off Tosin Adarabioyo, who couldn’t have known much about his inadvertent clearance. Anxiety levels grew higher as the lively Matej Vydra skated away from Joachim Andersen, reached the byline and pulled back a cross for Westwood, who rolled home the opener from close range.

That devastating blow caused Fulham’s fragile confidence to crater. It was nearly two almost immediately when the home side casually donated possession back to Burnley and Vydra almost fired in from the left angle of the box. But Dyche’s charges didn’t have to wait long to double their lead. Fulham were once again far too charitable inside their own half, affording Josh Brownhill plenty of time and space to pick out Wood, who lashed home from just outside the box. There was never likely to be any way back from that.

The routine victory solidifies Burnley’s only safety, which had never been serious doubt after Dyche arrested an alarming start with his usual brand of organisation and desire. Fulham went for broke after the interval as Parker threw on Josh Maja to join Mitrovic in attack, but there was no way through a stubborn Clarets back line. The Serbian striker probably had Fulham’s best chances – heading a corner straight at England goalkeeper Nick Pope and flicking another one into the side netting before Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa thumped the woodwork – but it was the visitors who looked more likely to round off the scoring. Only an excellent Alphonse Areola save prevented Jay Rodriguez from adding a third late on.

Attention will swiftly turn to whether Fulham can bounce back from the disappointment of a third relegation in seven seasons and be challenging in the Championship again in August. There will have to be questions about the club’s hierarchy, with the position of director of football Tony Khan sure to be in the spotlight, as well as Fulham’s long-term plan. Whether the future also includes Parker, linked to the Tottenham job in recent weeks, will be one of the first matters to be resolved as a significant summer rebuild approaches. This feels like another missed opportunity for the Whites to establish themselves again at English football’s top table – but, in truth, the damage was done months ago.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete (Maja 54), Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo (Loftus-Cheek 74); Lemina, Anguissa; Cavaleiro, Decordova-Reid (Onomah 66), Lookman; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Ream, Bryan, Aina, Carvalho.

BOOKED: Anguissa, Lemina.

BURNLEY (4-4-2): Pope; Lowton, Taylor, Mee, Tarkowski; Brownhill, Westwood, Cork, McNeill; Vydra (Rodriguez 67), Wood (Barnes 86). Subs (not used): Peacock-Farrell, Pieters, Bardsley, Dunne, Norris, Stephens, Gudmundsson.

GOALS: Westwood (35), Wood (44).

REFEREE: David Coote.

Havertz double finishes off Fulham

In the end it was rather tame. Kai Havertz scored either side of half-time to settle the south west London derby and leave Fulham staring at an immediate return to the Championship. Defeat at the hands of Thomas Tuchel’s well-drilled and accomplished outfit leaves Scott Parker’s side nine points adrift of safety with four games left.

Fulham had started brightly hoping to catch their neighbours cold after their European exploits in midweek. The only signs were promising with only a well-timed tackle from Andreas Christensen preventing Ademola Lookman from a sight of goal and a couple of shaky clearances suggesting that the visitors might profit from their persistent pressing. Antonee Robinson offered more evidence of Fulham’s sense of adventure when he stripped Havertz of possession and surged up the left flank. Only an alert bit of goalkeeping from Edouard Mendy prevented the strugglers from taking the lead.

Chelsea responded quickly. Mason Mount was afforded far too much time and space on the edge of the Fulham box and conjured up a cross that was inches away from the sliding Timo Werner. The German might have been fractionally offside, but it was a timely reminder of the threat posed by Chelsea’s player of the season. Fulham didn’t heed the warning – as Mount played a pivotal part in the opening goal that arrived two minutes later.

Tuchel’s side went a bit more direct from a short goal kick as Thiago Silva lifted a high ball over the Fulham midfield. Mount ran off Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa to move into a threatening position, controlled the ball magnificently and then produced a wonderful weight of pass to release Havertz. The German playmaker didn’t even have to break stride as he held off Ola Aina and finished coolly past Alphonse Areola. He was denied a second almost immediately by a correct offside flag – and despite a shaky spell – Fulham didn’t cave in.

Robinson recycled a half cleared corner ten yards inside the Chelsea half with a lovely floated ball into the inside right channel. Lookman’s low curler carried plenty of power but Mendy’s reactions were enough to prevent an equaliser. Parker’s charges continued to probe, dominating possession, but they lacked an outlet in the area when the ball reached the final third with Josh Maja outnumbered by three centre backs.

Chelsea should have settled the contest before half time. First, Werner unselfishly pulled the ball across goal having run clear down the right but an instinctive save from Areola denied Hakim Ziyech. The French goalkeeper – so often Fulham’s saviour this season – was then on hand to foil Werner, who couldn’t get the necessary power behind his shot from the left angle of the box.

While the deficit was just one, Fulham remained in with a chance of the victory they craved to put some life into their bid to beat the drop. Belief would have been enhanced by the way they ended the first half. Former Chelsea defender Aina caught one beautifully on the edge of the area and, a deflection off Reece James, almost wrongfooted Mendy. The Chelsea goalkeeper managed to get a hand to it – and the rebound spun agonisingly out of Bobby Decordova-Reid’s reach.

Any hopes of a Fulham revival were dashed just two minutes into the second half. A delightful Chelsea move saw the advanced Ben Chilwell feed Havertz, who spotted that Werner had dropped into space in front of the Fulham defence. Werner threaded a gorgeous return ball through the visitors’ rearguard and Havertz rolled in his second goal of the afternoon to hammer another nail in Fulham’s coffin.

Parker’s side had given plenty in what was a very watchable derby but the second goal knocked the stuffing out of Fulham. There was a first Premier League appearance for eighteen year-old attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho, who almost came close to a consolation goal in stoppage time after linking up with Aleksandar Mitrovic but ended up connecting with Mendy’s head rather than the ball as the Chelsea goalkeeper hared off his line.

The game is almost mathematically up for Fulham and, as Parker conceded in his midweek press conference, the club faces a massive rebuild to prepare for life in the second tier.

CHELSEA (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Christensen, Silva, Zouma; James, Chilwell (Alonso 81), Gilmour, Mount (Abraham 76); Ziyech (Kante 66), Werner; Havertz. Subs (not used): Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Anjorin, Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi.

BOOKED: Zouma.

GOALS: Havertz (10, 49).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Andersen; Lemina (Carvalho 78), Anguissa; Cavaleiro (Onomah 78), Decordova-Reid, Lookman; Maja (Mitrovic 81). Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Odoi, Ream, Tete, Bryan.

BOOKED: Aina.

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Darren England (Doncaster).

Fulham U18s hit Foxes for eight

A brilliant hat-trick from Mika Biereth fired Fulham’s under 18s to an astonishing 8-0 win at Leicester City and kept the youngsters’ hopes of defending their Premier League title alive.

Steve Wigley’s side had the chance to go ahead inside the very first minute for the second week running. Where Kieron Bowie converted after just sixteen seconds against Reading, the Scottish forward was foiled by an excellent reaction save by Leicester goalkeeper Chituru Odunze after an incisive through ball from Mika Biereth.

The visitors made the breakthrough in the twelve minute thanks to a fine solo striker from skipper Ollie O’Neill. The Irish youth international slalomed away from several Foxes defenders before sliding a measured under Odunze from an acute angle. It was almost two shortly afterwards when Biereth rounded the goalkeeper and saw his shot scrambled off the goalline, with the referee waving away Fulham appeals for handball.

Luke Harris went close to doubling the lead when he headed Luciano D’Auria-Henry’s cross against the woodwork, but any frustration was shortlived. Wigley’s charges earned some further breathing space when Adrion Pajziti picked out Biereth and the eighteen year-old fired his tenth league goal of the campaign into the bottom corner. Biereth turned provider for Fulham’s third nine minutes before the break – supplying an inch-perfect cross that left Bowie with the simplest of finishes from close range.

It might have been worse for Leicester but for a couple of outstanding saves from Odunze, who punched away a drive from Biereth and tipping away another Bowie effort before half-time. Biereth doubled his tally after skipping away from the goalkeeper five minutes after the interval before laying another one for Bowie shortly afterwards.

Harris got himself on the scoresheet, poaching the Fulham’s sixth from a yard out after Odunze had kept out Bowie’s initial attempt. Substitute Olly Sandersen added a seventh shortly after being introduced from the bench forcing home after Biereth had headed a ball back across the face of goal. Fittingly, Biereth finished off the scoring by completing his hat-trick, rounding the goalkeeper and beating a covering defender to score after being released by a brilliant through pass from Matt Dibley-Dias.

Crystal Palace remain top of the table after recording their own emphatic win on the south coast – beating Brighton 5-1. But Fulham are three points behind the Eagles with a game in hand, and a far superior goal difference. The young Whites finish their season with two away games – at Norwich next Saturday afternoon and then against Chelsea on May 15th.

FULHAM U18s: Borto; D’Auria-Henry, Parkes, Bowat (Williams 66), Odutayo; Dibley-Dias, Harris, O’Neill; Bowie (Sanderson 71), Pajaziti (Okkas 77), Biereth. Subs (not used): Roberts, Lanquedoc.