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Fulham U21s beaten at Cambridge in EFL Trophy opener

Fulham’s under-21s were beaten 2-0 by Cambridge United in opening fixture of their EFL Trophy campaign as crowds returned to professional football in England for the first time.

An experimental Fulham side took a while to get into the contest against their experienced opponents. Cambridge were quickly onto the front foot, with the lively Tom Knowles denied by a timely block from Jayden Harris, who was deployed at right back. Luca Ashby-Hammond then produced a smart reaction save to keep out the young midfielder before Paul Digby went close with a pair of headers and a snapshot that flew over the bar.

Harvey Knibbs almost gave the U’s the lead on nineteen minutes but his cushioned finish flashed fractionally wide, but the Abbey Stadium was able to acclaim the opening goal less than five minutes later. Knowles deservedly got on the scoresheet with a well-struck free-kick, although Ashby-Hammond will be bitterly disappointed with how easily he was beaten at his near post. Knowles then fired an inviting cross right across the face of goal and only a brave block from Conor McAvoy prevented him from grabbing his second on the stroke of half-time.

Fulham enjoyed plenty of possession in the first period, but they found more penetration the longer the game went on. Cambridge goalkeeper Callum Burton made a good reaction save to keep out a speculative drive from Harris before producing an excellent stop to thwart Sylvester Jasper, who looked Fulham’s most likely source of an equaliser. Jay Stansfield, who captained the Whites for the first time, turned his man impressively but lifted his shot just over the crossbar as Colin Omogbehin’s side pressed for an equaliser.

Cambridge remained a threat themselves, with Knibbs firing fractionally over as he approached the penalty area, and wrapped up the victory with five minutes to play. Substitute Paul Mullin steered home a composed finish from the edge of the box and Fulham would head home with nothing to show for their efforts, even though Jean-Pierre Tiehi looked to have been fouled in the penalty area in the closing stages.

CAMBRIDGE UNITED: Burton, Knoyle (Mullin 79), Taylor, Iredale, Dunk, Davies, Digby, May (Simper 42), Knowles, Knibbs (Ironside 81), Dallas. Subs (not used): Mitov, Hannant, Cundy, Worman.

GOALS: Knowles (24), Mullin (85).

FULHAM: L. Ashby-Hammond, Larkeche, Mundle-Smith, McAvoy, Harris, Pajaziti (Ablade 68), de Havilland, Carvalho, Davis (Tiehi 82), Jasper, Stansfield. Subs (not used): Las, O’Neill, Odutayo.

REFEREE: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).

ATTENDANCE: 862.

Fulham to face Burton, Cambridge and Peterborough in EFL Trophy

Fulham’s under 21s will face Burton Albion, Cambridge United, Peterborough United in the group phase of the EFL Trophy after the draw was conducted this lunchtime.

The Whites were drawn in Group H of the southern section of the competition. Fulham were eliminated at the group stage of the tournament last season, having lost to MK Dons, been beaten on penalties by Stevenage and beaten Wycombe Wanderers.

Fulham’s campaign will get underway on Tuesday 8th September when they travel to Cambridge United, kicking off at 7.45pm. The Whites will then face Peterborough United on Tuesday 6th October at 7.45pm before finishing the group stage against Burton Albion on Tuesday 10th November – again with a 7.45pm kick off.

Charlton Athletic 3-2 Fulham U21s

A fairly entertaining affair at the Valley saw Carl Robinson’s Charlton host Peter Grant’s Fulham academy side. Robinson made eleven changes to the Charlton team that played at the weekend, bringing in the experienced Johnnie Jackson and Mark Marshall whilst Ben Reeves also came into the midfield. The fixture under the floodlights on a pretty chilly evening drew a crowd of less than 750, sarcastically reported as Charlton’s lowest for a competitive fixture but treated like the FA Cup final by the rowdy home supporters in attendance. Officially the under 23s, Fulham held their own in a game where their eldest players were a ripe 20 years old, Charlton supporters will claim it was their kids playing but 10 of their starting eleven were older than the Fulham starting team.

The experienced heads of Johnnie Jackson and Ben Reeves grew into the game after a strong Fulham start, which saw Charlton control possession of the football for large periods of the game but the Whites defended resolutely holding them to few clearcut chances: which will disappoint Peter Grant’s squad even more following the collapse of a 2-1 lead heading into final minutes turn into a switch around 3-2 loss. Some bright sparks in the cold of a South East London night, the game provided the perfect learning experience for Fulham’s youngsters: playing and preparing in a professional football stadium with competing with more experienced footballers.

Player ratings:

Magnus Norman: Strong in his own penalty box, Norman will be disappointed to concede three. One or two really decent saves were topped by his safe hands with the majority of crosses coming into the penalty box. Think he could really have done better with one or two of the Charlton goals but tough to say on first viewing and no replays at the Valley. 6

Djed Spence: 17 year old Djed Spence was making only his 2nd start for Fulham at this age group and defended pretty well all things considered. He grew in confidence and tried to make more of an impact in an attacking sense with a few quick bursts down the right flank. Kept Karlan Ahearne-Grant fairly quiet. 6.5

Aron Davies: One of Fulham’s better performers, 20 year old captain Aron Davies helped create Fulham’s early opener with a gorgeous ball from the ball that found Elijah Adebayo’s chest perfectly – must have been a 50 yard pass. Overall, Davies defended resolutely bar one moment in the second half, and his distribution was key to the majority of Fulham’s attacks: again, one moment where he shanked a ball into the stands but otherwise a strong display. The boy is due professional football, that’s no doubt his next learning experience. 7

Moritz Jens: I’ve admired the German centre back ever since he arrived at Fulham, and despite still being 18 years old, he looked at home last night. Solid in the air, Jens and Davies complimented each other with the younger Moritz putting in more of an understated performance. 6.5

Rob Atkinson: I felt for the recently signed Rob Atkinson last night. Typically a centre half, who could potentially make a move to left back but was taught a lesson by the experienced Mark Marshall on the Charlton right flank. Nice passer of the ball and attempted to get forward, but simply losing the one-on-one battle with Marshall is the reason for the low grade. 5.5

Mikki Kwietniewski: The Polish attacking midfielder was taken off at half time and didn’t affect proceedings at all. You could really have forgotten he was playing; and I do like him as a player, it’s simply testament to Charlton’s impressive left back, Jamie Mascoll 5

Matt O’Riley: Showed the poise which has lead to his Fulham first team debut and swept up nicely in midfield but the team didn’t have enough possession for O’Riley to make a real impact on proceedings. The youngest player on the pitch but didn’t look it, may not have had his foot on the ball as frequently as usual but held his own against what would’ve been a solid League One central midfield pairing. 6

Jayden Harris: 18 year old Jayden Harris possesses impressive athleticism, the type of player we rarely bring through at Fulham. He put himself about well but simply didn’t affect the game. If I had to proper match report, Harris wouldn’t have featured bar a funnily memorable moment where he held off 35 year Johnnie Jackson with absolute ease. Needs some seasoning but a good learning experience for him. We weren’t completely overwhelmed in midfield despite a 16 year old and an 18 year old going against a 25 and 35 year old. 5.5

Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson: You could argue the little Icelandic was the best player on the pitch. A gorgeous finish for the opener, Thorsteinsson drew frustration out of the home crowd and management staff – the spark for most things in attack for Fulham, Thor’s skill all over the pitch brought Fulham time with free kicks and was a fairly constant threat. Also thread a beautiful slide rule pass for Cameron Thompson’s goal to put Fulham in the lead. I hate saying players are the ‘next X, Y and Z’ but Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson glided on the left flank in an Eden Hazard like fashion. Charlton manager Carl Robinson took the time to speak to Thor after the game and mention him specifically in his post match comments, “he’s certainly got plenty of talent.” My man of the match. 7.5

Mattias Kait: Started the game in the hole, before being moved to the right in the second following Kwietniewski’s substitution. Worked hard off the ball but didn’t have many touches on it, could have been forgiven for forgetting he was playing. Victim of Fulham’s inability to control possession as he is a good footballer. 5.5

Elijah Adebayo: Hovered between a 6.5 rating and the 7 I did eventually give him, Adebayo was a handful for the Charlton centre backs all game right up until his substitution. Had a connection with centre half Aron Davies and won a large majority of his duels with Jo Cummings throughout the game. Showed some nice target man play for the opening goal and edged the 7 with his all round impact in what was a tough game to be a striker. Has all the tools to make a good career for himself if he works hard but will likely have to start in non-league. 7

Fulham substitutes:

Cameron Thompson: Thompson’s introduction gave Charlton another thing to think about with Fulham’s counter attacks. Knowing Cameron since his time with the U16s, he’s a lethal finisher and displayed it with a lovely left footed strike past Dillon Phillips in the Charlton goal (a 22 year old who has won the National League). A smaller striker but with a Defoe/Aguero like finishing ability, Thompson’s sole opportunity to score came to him on his weaker foot and at 17 years old he despatched with aplomb. Threatened with his pace in behind, Thompson now has two goals in his first four matches at this level to add to his 9 in 6 matches at under 18 level. Whisper it quietly, but here’s the next star striker for Fulham at academy level – and I would’ve told you that two/three years back. I look forward to seeing him develop throughout the season, and can see him starting games at this level by the end of the season. 6.5

Michael Elstone: Peter Grant changed his mind on substitutions a couple of times in the game, seemingly calling Tyreese Francois back from his warm up to get him ready but he didn’t come on. He also had Isaac Pearce on the sideline ready but sent him back to the dugout after the Charlton equaliser. Elstone doesn’t get a rating simply because he only had about 10 minutes to work with; Charlton were piling on the pressure at this point n/a

Overall it was an average performance from Peter Grant’s men with a few stand outs. A good learning experience and resolute team display for the majority of the game. I think Charlton would’ve spent more money on stewards and staff despite the £10 adult tickets and regularly priced food (including £6.00 for a curry in the Millennium Lounge and £2.30 for a cup of tea). No wonder nobody turned up.