Fulham’s under 23s were made to wait for their seventh successive win – but three late goals for Steve Wigley’s side secured victory over Stoke City at Motspur Park tonight.
The young Potters side battled valiantly having had Daniel Malone sent off for a horrid lunge at Adrion Pajaziti but were eventually beaten as Fulham made their numerical advantage count in the final quarter of an intriguing contest. Idris Odutayo broke the deadlock with seventeen minutes to play – heading home his first goal of the season from a fine Marlon Fossey cross. Terry Ablade doubled the lead five minutes later with a splendid volley before substitute Luke Harris added a third in stoppage time.
Wigley rung the changes after the international break with Damien Las making his first under-23 start of the campaign and bringing back Ablade and Ollie O’Neill, who scored a dramatic winner on his debut for the Republic of Ireland’s under 21s on his international debut. Fulham began patiently with Kieron Bowie going close with a rasping drive before Ibrahima Sy headed straight at Las after a lovely Stoke counter-attack.
But Stoke’s hopes of troubling the league leaders further were seriously diminished when Malone received his marching orders ten minutes before half time for a rash challenge on Pajaziti. England youth international Emre Tezgel almost gave the visitors a shock lead when he slotted wide of goal after bursting clear of the Fulham back line. Bowie almost gave the young Whites a half-time advantage but his audacious long-range effort crashed against the crossbar.
Fulham were in the ascendancy early in the second half with a speculative Pajaziti drive flying off target and O’Neill was denied by a brave block from Lewis Macari. The lively Ablade, preferred to Jean-Pierre Tiehi in the starting line-up, then drove wide after racing away from the Stoke defence as the hosts still toiled for the breakthrough. Just when it looked like being a frustrating evening, centre half Odutayo popped up at the far post to power home Fossey’s floated ball in and give Fulham a priceless advantage.
That seemed to sap the spirit from the Stoke side. Ablade volleyed majestically past Nathan Broome after excellent work down the left from Ziyad Larkeche and Harris, who replaced Bowie midway through the second half, rounded off the scoring in added time by emphatically firing home. The victory means that Wigley’s in-form side are now ten points clear at the top of the table.
FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): Las; Fossey, Larkeche, C. Robinson, Odutayo; Sessegnon, Pajaziti (Dibley-Dias 86); Hilton, Bowie (Harris 66), O’Neill; Ablade (Tiehi 82). Subs (not used): Allen, Araujo.
GOALS: Odutayo (73), Ablade (78), Harris (90+2).
STOKE CITY UNDER 23s (4-4-1-1): Broome; Jones, Coates, Okagbue, Macari; Malone, Jarrett, Goodwin, James-Taylor; Sy; Tezgel (McCarthy 77). Subs (not used): Hemfrey, Roney, Baker, Cargill.
REFEREE: Tom Bishop.
SENT OFF: Malone (35).