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Fulham U23s go top after Norwich win

Steve Wigley celebrated being confirmed as Fulham’s permanent under 23 coach with a win over Norwich as the Whites moved to the top of PL2 Second Division thanks to two second half goals at King’s Lynn tonight.

Norwich, managed by former Fulham defender Alain Neilson, were more than a match for their visitors in the first half with Tom Dickson-Peters spurning a glorious one-on-one chance before referee Robert Whitton waved away strong penalty appeals after Jon Rowe looked to have been bundled off by the returning Idris Odutayo. Fulham gradually got their precise passing going with Sonny Hilton shooting into the side netting and Jay Stansfield denied by Dylan Berry as the Canaries keeper made immediate amends his poor pass.

Rowe sent an ambitious overhead kick fractionally wide from a free-kick before Stansfield blazed over from Hilton’s cross at the other end. Fulham nearly went behind through a self-inflicted wound when Taye Ashby-Hammond’s slack clearance found its way to Tom Dickson-Peters, who did brilliantly to dart away from retreating defenders, and sidefooted against the post. Wigley’s charges finished the stronger – they had a goal chalked off for offside and Hilton appeared set to put Fulham in front but saw his goalbound finish scrambled off the line by Jon Tomkinson.

The Whites continued where they left off after the interval. Luke Harris had a drive well saved by Berry before Terry Ablade fired over from eight yards after excellent play down the left from Ziyad Larkeche. Adrion Pajaziti almost sensationally curled home from 20 yards but the Kosovar midfielder’s finish went agonisingly wide. They eventually went ahead with eighteen minutes to play when Hilton’s free-kick was turned into his own net by Josh Giurgi despite Berry’s best efforts to keep the ball out.

Substitute Jean Pierre Tiehi nearly doubled the lead on his first appearance since rejoining the club but his powerful header from a fabulous Marlon Fossey cross cannoned against the crossbar. Berry then did brilliantly to spread himself and thwart Hilton from six yards, but Fulham finally made sure of the three points in the last minute when Conor McAvoy headed home Stansfield’s cross at the far post.

NORWICH CITY UNDER 23s (4-3-3): Berry; Giurgi, Earley (Shipley 45), Tomkinson, Warner; Khumbeni (Brooke 66), Clarke (Hutchinson 88), Springett; Dickson-Peters, Rowe, Kamara. Subs (not used): Rose.

BOOKED: Earley.

FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): T. Ashby-Hammond; Fossey, Larkeche, McAvoy, Odutayo; Pajaziti, Harris (D’Auria-Henry 83); Hilton, O’Neill (Williams 74), Stansfield; Ablade (Tiehi 70). Subs (not used): Adams.

BOOKED: McAvoy, Williams, Tiehi.

GOALS: Giurgi (o.g. 72), McAvoy (90).

REFEREE: Robert Whitton.

ATTENDANCE: 118.

Jimmy Hill Day at Coventry tomorrow

It is Jimmy Hill Day tomorrow at Coventry. The Sky Blues have moved their annual December commemoration of their former manager and chairman to coincide with Fulham’s visit to the Coventry Building Society Arena as they raise money for the Jimmy Hill Legacy Fund, which supports a number of activities for disadvantaged children in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Hill arguably personally powered ‘the Sky Blue revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s and, as Fulham Supporters’ Trust chairman Tom Greatrex writes in this perceptive piece, he was critical to preserving Fulham’s long-term future as well as being an outstanding player for the club. His enthusiasm for the game was ever-lasting and the Trust, in conjunction with their counterparts at the Sky Blues Trust, are encouraging fans to gather by Hill’s statue opposite the away end from noon tomorrow to celebrate his unique contribution to the game we love.

If you are not heading to Coventry tomorrow, you can donate to the Jimmy Hill Legacy Fund, which is supported by Jimmy’s family and whose current board includes former Fulham defender Terry Angus, here.

Araujo earns first England under 18s call up

Fulham defender Harvey Araujo has won a call up to the England under 18 squad for the first time.

The left back has been named alongside Fulham team-mate Michael Olakgibe in new head coach Ryan Garry’s party for two games in Marbella against Norway and Russia. Araujo, who made fourteen appearances for Fulham’s under 18s last season as Steve Wigley’s side retained their southern division title, signed his first professional deal at Craven Cottage earlier this summer.

The teenage defender, who can also play at centre back, has made five appearances for Fulham’s under 18s this term. Olakigbe, who made his international debut at this age group as a substitute against Wales last month, has scored three goals and made two more in five club games so far this season.

Why Steve Wigley’s promotion is a serious step forward

The news that Fulham have promoted Steve Wigley to become head coach of their under-23 side, after a successful spell in caretaker charge, can only be viewed as a positive move. Wigley has been an integral part of the revival of the Fulham academy under Huw Jennings and Alistair Mackintosh in two spells with the club, beginning in 2012 when he first took charge of the under-18 side. His achievements with that age group have been stellar from the outset.

Wigley won Fulham’s first U18 league title in his first season and led the young Whites to a prestigious Dallas Cup success in the same season. He followed that up by taking a new side all the way to the FA Youth Cup final, where the young Whites were cruelly beaten 8-7 on aggregate by a contentious late winner at Stamford Bridge. Just as important as the results on the pitch was the development of young talent, a key early aspiration of Mohamed Al-Fayed when he took over at Craven Cottage but something that proved significantly harder to achieve until the arrival of Jennings and Malcolm Elias in quick succession a decade ago.

Wigley’s methods and day-to-day nurturing saw the likes of Cauley Woodrow, George Williams, Emerson Hyndman, Moussa Dembele and Patrick Roberts move swiftly through the pathway from his under-18 outfit to the first team – a process hastened when Kit Symons took over as senior manager. Just as significant was Fulham’s success in luring Wigley back to Motspur Park after his spell as assistant to Stuart Pearce at Nottingham Forest came to an end. He has added two consecutive under 18 titles in the past two seasons – establishing attacking principles alongside a demand for hard work as Fulham have firmly established themselves as one of the country’s leading academies. Just how comfortable Fabio Carvalho looks at senior level is arguably a tribute not just to the teenager’s natural talent but his time under the tutelage of Wigley and the club’s other younger age group coaches.

Whilst the under-18 side has been sweeping all before them of late (Wigley has lost just nine games of 51 in since returning to the fold), Fulham have stagnated at under 23-level over the past couple of seasons. Some of this is undoubtedly down to the nature of the competition – the newer age group has never felt as natural a fit as its under-21 predecessor or the reserve games of old, lacking a bit of intensity and with plenty of players wondering whether they will ever make the step up to senior football if they are past 21. There was a significant drop off in performances under both Peter Grant and Mark Pembridge, who is understood to have left the club after eighteen years at Motspur Park, with the club dropping into the second division of the PL2 as well as concern that Fulham’s famed youth development pathway had developed a blockage.

When the club advertised the recruitment of a new head coach at under-23 level following the academy restructure that saw Colin Omogbehin handed a new first-team development position, it was thought Fulham were seeking an external appointment. Wigley took over the reigns on a temporary basis as well as continuing to oversee the development of an almost entirely new under 18 side. It helped that many of the under 23 squad were familiar with his methods have stepped up from the under 18s, but the early results told their own story. Four wins and a draw from their first six fixtures have the Whites level on points with Aston Villa at the top of the table as well as an adventurous and energetic style of play that mirrors how Marco Silva has got the first team operating.

Creative talent, like Sonny Hilton, no longer seems stifled and the emergence of Ollie O’Neill and young Luke Harris at this level shows a commitment to giving players an opportunity regardless of their age. There is significant firepower at Wigley’s disposal, with Jay Stansfield having already demonstrated his eye for goal on the senior stage this season and Finnish forward Terry Ablade having found the net four times in five outings. That’s before Jean-Pierre Tiehi is reintroduced to the set up having reversed course and put pen to paper on a two-year deal last week.

Fulham’s under 23s head to King’s Lynn to take on Norwich City in their latest league fixture tonight in good heart. Wigley, a proven producer of precious talent, now has an opportunity to guide more young starlets towards the first team set up.

Bryan calls for ‘consistency’

Joe Bryan has called on his Fulham team-mates to find some much needed consistency in the Championship by following a fine victory over Swansea with a win at Coventry City tomorrow.

The Whites ended a frustrating winless run with a 3-1 win over the Swans at Craven Cottage in midweek, inspired by Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first half hat trick. Bryan insists that will count for nothing unless Fulham can back it up with another win in the Midlands – although Coventry have won five out of five on their home patch in a fine start to the season.

Bryan told FFC TV:

“Obviously, they’ve started brilliantly. I think they had a tough result last night. That’s the Championship for you. We know that we can win four games in a row and then get three or four stuck past you. We’ve had a couple of tough results in this little block of games but if we can take the point on Saturday, three points on Wednesday and get a victory on Saturday, I think we’ll look back on it as a good run of games.

“I think when you play for Fulham, you have to understand that we’re a very, very talented and good team in this division. You respect the opposition, of course, because they are where there are for a reason, but we know that we’ve got an abundance of quality. Not just the starting eleven, I think you’ve seen over the last few weeks with injuries, playing coming in and doing well, we’ve got real quality in depth and we’ve got to show it with consistency. You can’t show it with spurts, we make to sure we can nail down that consistency now.”

Where do Fulham stand at the end of September?

Fulham’s fine victory over Swansea City in midweek lifted the Whites back to third in the table and took us to the ten game mark in the Championship, where perceptive pundits believe you can make an assessment about where teams might finish. Marco Silva’s start defies a simple summary really, but I thought it was time to take stock of the up and downs by the River Thames so far.

The first observation is a further straightforward one but it is bears repeating: it is so great to be able to attend games in person again. I was one of the travelling fans at Ashton Gate and loved the Mitrovic show on Wednesday night. Away days are back and that’s wonderful, while there’s nothing quite like being at Craven Cottage under the lights. After the desolation of empty stadiums and watching football from home whilst working from home too, being back in stadiums still gives me a real lift.

If we were writing a report card on Fulham’s first two months, I think it would conclude with that familiar teaching cliché: ‘could do better’. That’s largely because Silva’s side have been maddeningly inconsistent of late. The opening weekend draw with Middlesbrough has encapsulated the frustrating elements of our season so far: comfortably in control of a game but letting three points slip away in the latter stages by not being clinical. We have struggled to break down a low block as the season as gone on and our finishing can leave an awful lot to be desire – the games against Reading and Bristol City demonstrated this clearly.

You still have a sense that Silva hasn’t quite got the balance right in midfield. Much of that might be caused by the absence of Fabio Carvalho, who started the season so sensationally, and we certainly miss a dynamic number ten. Jean-Michael Seri’s redemption has been the big surprise to date and while the Ivorian’s ability makes him a cut above technically at this level, deploying him as the deepest-lying midfielder does seem fraught with danger. He can still lose the man he’s meant to be tracking or let someone drift past him too easily, as happened at Bloomfield Road.

There’s still a big debate raging about who should be in goal, although not with the man that matters. Silva has stuck by Paulo Gazzaniga and, while he has flapped at a few crosses and looked a little shaky when the ball has been played back to him, I feel the Argentine has done a decent job. He pulled off a couple of fine saves at Bristol City and, if the assistant referee had utilised his flag correctly, would have been lauded for a brilliant stop from Chris Martin before Kasey Palmer was able to tuck home the rebound.

Fulham have looked irresistible going forward at times, handing out a couple of drubbings, and when Silva’s side hit top gear it seems like nobody can live with them. The performance at Huddersfield on that very first August away day showed what the Whites can do. Despite being down to ten men late on, where in the past we would have very definitely shut up down, Silva sent on another attacker and Ivan Cavaleiro added two goals to seal a comprehensive victory. Fulham looked just as devastating in the early stages at Millwall, but couldn’t put the game to bed and were left clinging on after Benik Afobe’s bizarre late strike.

There can be no doubting that the last international break severely disrupted Fulham’s rhythm and Carvalho’s toe problem robbed the side of its most exhilarating performance. In the teenager’s absence, Silva has tried a number of different options in the number ten position – but none have seized their opportunity. The proven performer in Tom Cairney remains sidelined with knee problems and the alternatives have been scratchy at best. Domingos Quina is still adapting to his new surroundings and Fulham’s style, which is why it was a surprise to see him start at Bloomfield Road. You can never fault Bobby Decordova-Reid’s effort but he hasn’t flourished behind the striker this term and seems to be struggling in front of goal. Josh Onomah had an excellent start to the season but isn’t a natural 10 himself. Fulham have sorely missed the energy and vision of our gifted academy graduate, so hopefully Carvalho will be available for selection for the local derby with QPR as Silva has hinted at.

The head coach has to take some of the blame for not trusting the depth in his squad ahead of that Blackpool defeat, given that so many key players were coming back late from international duty. Fulham looked understandably lethargic but delivered the perfect response at Birmingham, even if the performance wasn’t as the dominant as the eventual 4-1 scoreline suggested. There might be a mentality thing at play here: when the Whites go ahead early, they are usually able to pick up points but they have yet to come up with an answer after going behind. Against sides like Blackpool and Reading, who are content to sit in and use that low block to stifle Fulham’s creativity, Silva’s charges seem somewhat stumped. If they want to make an immediate return to the top flight, the head coach and his technical staff will need to find a solution – as they will face such an approach with increasingly regularity.

Despite only getting a point at Bristol City, I wasn’t too disheartened with what I saw at Ashton Gate. We battered them and created countless chances to win the game – rather like the reverse to Reading. It would be much more worrying if Fulham were failing to create scoring opportunities, whilst the openings are coming, you always feel the goals will arrive too. I can’t remember the last game I saw Fulham hit the bar three times and confirmation that our luck was truly out came when Palmer’s equaliser was allowed to stand.

There was some criticism of Mitrovic’s failure to grab all three points in Bristol, but Wednesday night was all about the superb Serbian striker. His first goal might have proved the old adage about decisions evening themselves out as he looked offside from Tim Ream’s header, but he took it exceptionally well. His clever movement quickly doubled the lead with a sharp finish and the third goal was a joy to watch. The flowing team move from the back was reminiscent of how Slavisa Jokanovic’s promotion winners would play through their opponents and Mitrovic finished with real authority. That kind of football is what Silva is searching for and if they can produce that level of quality consistently, I’m confident the Whites will remain to top of the table – and perhaps even pull away.

It is important to back up that victory with another three points at Coventry tomorrow lunchtime, although that will be easier said than done. The Sky Blues have been sensational back on home turf this season and Mark Robins will have worked them extra hard in the two days since a surprising 5-0 thumping at Luton. Ending their 100% start at home would be a real statement.

Up next: Coventry City (a)

After getting back to winning ways in midweek courtesy of a first half hat-trick from Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham face an intriguing trip to the Championship’s early season surprise package, Coventry City, in their final fixture before another international break. The hosts, who boast a flawless home record, suffered the first setback of a superb season so far when they were thrashed 5-0 at Luton on Wednesday night and the experienced Mark Robins – probably one of the country’s most underrated managers at present – will be determined to make sure that was merely a blip.

The Sky Blues will certainly be formidable opposition on their home turf, having taken fifteen points from their five games back at what is now known as the Coventry Building Society Arena. The impact of being able to play at their permanent home again, after years of exile prompted by the SISU shenanigans, can’t be understated when analysing such an outstanding start to the new campaign. Successful recruitment over the summer, sticking with Robins – who has guided the club to promotion from both League Two and League One – and proving that they can mix it at this level last season have all helped to generate a sense of optimism around the club arguably not seen since they were regularly surprising the Premiership’s big boys under Gordon Strachan.

Robins has largely stuck with the 3-4-1-2 formation that saw City secure the League One title and establish themselves at this level. That consistency in selection and methods is one of the main reasons why his side have amassed eight more points than at this time last season and have also established a hefty buffer between themselves and the relegation zone. Robins has refused to get carried away after a fantastic start, but it is reasonable to suggest that the Sky Blues should be readjusting their sights towards the top of the Championship table.

Before the Kenilworth Road horror show, Coventry had conceded just six goals in 810 minutes of Championship football, and their back three has been superbly marshalled by veteran Kyle McFadzean. Dominic Hyam’s adept reading of the game has made him one of Coventry’s most reliable performers in recent years, whilst Jake Clarke-Salter has began his loan spell from Chelsea impressively. Another Stamford Bridge loanee in Ian Maatsen offers both defensive diligence and a forward thrust from left wing back with Fankaty Dabo, also a Walham Green academy graduate, likely to return from suspension on the opposition flank.

The hosts will be without the influential Gustavo Hamer, who picked up a fifth booking in Buckinghamshire, with captain Liam Kelly likely to return to the engine room alongside Jamie Allen as a result. Fulham will need to watch the gifted Callum O’Hare, who has taken his fine finish to last term into the new campaign, and, whilst not being talked about too often by the pundits as one of the second tier’s most accomplished attacking midfielders, he’s finally showing the potential that saw him considered one of Aston Villa’s most highly-rated academy prospects earlier in his career.

Swedish striker Viktor Gykores is the most obvious threat to Fulham’s defence, having scored seven goals so far this season, after making his loan move from Brighton permanent in the summer. He has largely been paired with the experienced Martyn Waghorn up top, although the former Nottingham Forest forward Tyler Walker is also an option for Robins. Gykores has been particularly productive at home, with his intelligent movement and predatory instincts certain to keep Tim Ream and Tosin Adarabioyo on their toes.

Marco Silva’s men banished the disappointment of a frustrating afternoon at Ashton Gate last week as Mitrovic scored a second Fulham hat-trick inside 45 minutes against Swansea, having missed three clear-cut chances to beat Bristol City in stoppage on Saturday. That victory lifted them up to third in the table and might have settled a few jitters in the camp, but the Portuguese head coach has already stressed the need to finish September’s schedule strongly before the international break. Fulham looked threatening every time they came forward against the Swans, with Neeskens Kebano particularly lively down the left flank. The Congolese winger should be rewarded with a regular run in the team.

Silva suggested that the left back crisis might be a little less severe than initially feared last night. He will check on the fitness of Joe Bryan, who came off after injuring his back in the first half on Wednesday, and Antonee Robinson after today’s training session but both are in contention to start at Coventry, which comes as a relief given Fulham had to see out the final 35 minutes against Swansea with a back three and Bobby Decordova-Reid at left wing back. The Whites will definitely be without Nathaniel Chalobah, who picked up a leg injury at Bristol City, and the exciting Fabio Carvalho – missing since the end of August with a fractured toe.

MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri, Onomah; Kebano, Wilson, Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Robinson, Mawson, Quina, Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro, Muniz.

Silva sympathises with ‘unlucky’ Sessegnon

Marco Silva sympathises with ‘unlucky’ defender Steven Sessegnon but has warned the academy graduate that he needs to find consistent fitness in order to make an impression on the Fulham first team squad.

Sessegnon has been restricted to outings for the club’s under 23 side, most recently in midfield, after seeing his pre-season derailed by a combination of injuries and coronavirus. The England under-21 international’s loan spell with Bristol City last term didn’t go as planned as injuries limited him to just eighteen appearances at Ashton Gate.

Silva admitted that Sessegnon, whose last senior appearance for the club came as a last-minute substitute against Sheffield Wednesday in July 2020, faces significant competition from the other right backs at the club.

“He has competition – and not just one, two or three players. Unfortunately, even in this short time I’m here, he’s got some small injuries that are stopping him. He’s not a player who can keep stopping and even before me he got injuries and Covid as well.”

The 21 year-old has been absent from training this week after picking up another knock and will desperate for a injury-free run.

“These last two days, he didn’t work with the team again. He has to try and keep fit and work as hard as he can. He cannot be in and out every single week, because if he wants to match his team-mates in this position he has to work really hard. He’s been unlucky, and he has quality, but he needs to show this every single day.”

Bryan and Robinson could return at Coventry

Joe Bryan and Antonee Robinson are both in line to return at Coventry on Saturday to ease Fulham’s left back crisis, according to Marco Silva.

The Fulham boss will assess the pair after Fulham’s final training session at Motspur Park tomorrow. Bryan had to be replaced after injuring his back after a clash with Swansea’s Ethan Laird, but Silva believes the former Bristol City left back could make a quick recovery. Antonee Robinson was unavailable after jarring his knee in training but could also be available for the trip to the Midlands.

“Antonee wasn’t comfortable playing. It was something in his knee, but nothing special. Joe had a big impact on his back and it was really stiff at half time, and the beginning of the second half. Today, he’s doing better than yesterday. It’s possible tomorrow it could be much better again. After the session we will decide. But it looks good.

Fulham will certainly be without Nathaniel Chalobah and teenager Fabio Carvalho.

Fabio is working with the team. Today he worked again. He had a good session. Now is for him to get in the best physical condition to play, and we expect to see him after the international break. Chalobah felt something in the first half at Bristol City. He hasn’t worked with the team since then. It’s a small issue in his leg.”

How Fulham got back to winning ways against Swansea

Fulham faced Swansea City having won just one of their last five games after only picking up a point at Ashton Gate on Saturday. The Whites were keen to return to winning ways having lost some of the momentum generated by an excellent August but the Welsh outfit looked like formidable opposition, having reached the Championship play-offs in both of the last two seasons.

Marco Silva went with his usual 4-2-3-1 system, deploying Bobby Decordova-Reid behind Aleksandar Mitrovic, who had missed several stoppage time chances against Bristol City. When they were without the ball, Harrison Reed and Jean-Michael Seri occupied the conventional holding midfield roles filling possible passing lanes and reducing the gap between Fulham’s defence and midfield.

Swansea set up in a 3-4-3 formation, committing numbers high up the field to press Fulham in attempt to pinch possession in dangerous positions. The visitors looked to dominate the ball, patiently seeking out opportunities to exploit any weakness in the home defence. Russell Martin, impressive in his time at Milton Keynes, is the youngest manager in the English football pyramid and is implementing a fresh, possession-based style at the Liberty Stadium.

Martin’s adherence to his principles is admirable but Fulham went in front twelve minutes in the game when Tim Ream’s header found Aleksandar Mitrovic in the area and the Serbian slotted home after turning impressively. There was more than a whiff of offside about the goal, which suggested fortune had smiled on the Whites after Kasey Palmer’s equaliser at the weekend had been allowed to stand.

Fulham 2-0 Swansea City (Mitrovic 12)

Fulham’s second goal came from a slick counter attack which began with a smart interception from Joe Bryan inside his own half. The left back immediately burst forward, looking to exploit a five-on-four situation. Bryan heads inside, fixing Ben Cabnago on him, and opening up space for Neeskens Kebano outside him. Ideally, Ethan Laird would have been able to track the Congolese winger’s run but, after being caught upfield and with the speed and intensity of Fulham’s attack, the right wing back can’t get back into position.

Kebano has time to pick out a cross and there are three white shirts in the area against two Swansea defenders. Mitrovic makes a clever run from behind Naughton to get to the ball first. He finds the far corner that Ben Hamer can’t cover with a clever finish to a fine Fulham move.

Fulham 2-1 Swansea City (Paterson 38)

Swansea had seen plenty of the ball but barely created a chance before Flynn Downes found Joel Piroe just short of the halfway line. The pass into Piroe pulls Tosin Adarabioyo in with the Dutch forward, creating a dog leg in the Fulham back four with space for Swansea to exploit in behind. Seri and Reed are also drawn to the ball – making those gaps even greater.

A sharp turn from Piroe gets him away from all three and offering an angle to pass through to Paterson, who is goal side of Odoi. Tosin being so far out of the Fulham defensive line means that there is a massive space left open to be exploited.

Fulham 3-1 Swansea City (Mitrovic 45)

When Fulham had the ball in defensive areas, Swansea sought to press them really high up the pitch and steal possession in the Cottagers’ half. They had four men pushing high up the pitch but as soon as Ream works the ball to Seri and Fulham are behind the press, the visitors are on the back foot and Fulham can take advantage.

Once the ball gets to Decordova-Reid’s feet and he can turn and run at the Swansea defence, Bidwell is forced into the centre of the pitch. This is because Matt Grimes had been pressing close to the Fulham area, meaning the ex-QPR and Brentford full back gets drawn into trying to fill a gap in central midfield. That frees up space down the right flank for Odoi to gallop into and stretches the Swansea back three.

With Bidwell caught in the midfield and Odoi in plenty of space. Manning is forced to come across and press the Belgian. This, though, opens up space between Manning and Naughton for Odoi to put a cross into and Mitrovic to attack and the Serbian’s sublime first time finish wrapped up his hat trick.