Fulham midfielder Ollie O’Neill scored on his debut for the Republic of Ireland’s under 21s as the boys in green kept their hopes of reaching the European Championships alive with a last-gasp win over Sweden in Dublin tonight.
The talented teenager was summoned from the substitutes’ bench with eight minutes remaining as Jim Crawford, gambled in search of a winner against the league leaders. O’Neill delivered with the last kick of the game – finding the bottom corner from the left side of the penalty area after being played through by Conor Coventry.
O’Neill told RTE after the final whistle: ‘It’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had. I had Covid in the last camp – it knocked me out of that, I barely played a minute. To come and get a goal tonight was unbelievable. It was such a big game for the qualifiers as well. It was just an amazing moment.
‘A loose ball broke in the box. I felt I should have hit with my left when I was in. I took a touch, I was quite calm actually – I think everyone else was screaming! I cut inside, reversed it. It’s just that moment when it goes in – it is unbelievable. It is the best feeling ever. It’s like a fairy tale!’
The 18 year-old, who was named Fulham’s scholar of the year in May, has been included in Jim Crawford’s 24-man squad for two European Championship qualifiers against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Luxembourg. O’Neill has featured in both of Fulham’s under 23 victories so far this season and is expected to be involved in tonight’s trip to table topping Aston Villa.
O’Neill, who joined Fulham after Brentford took the decision to close their academy, captained the under 18s to Premier League South title glory last season, creating ten goals in 23 league appearances. He also featured eight times for Fulham’s under 23s last term and remains highly-rated at Motspur Park.
The Irish teenager made 23 appearances – scoring four times and adding nine assists – for the under 18s as Steve Wigley’s side successfully retained their Premier League south title. He also featured eight times in Fulham’s under 23 side and is regarded as one of the brightest talents in the club’s academy set-up.
New academy director Mike Cave told Fulham’s official website this afternoon: “Not only was Ollie a key member of the Under-18s team that made the National Final last season, but in a year that offered unique challenges with the pandemic, Ollie was able to achieve A*s in both his English and Maths A-levels, as well as a double distinction* in his sport BTEC. Congratulations Ollie!”
Martin O’Neill is in talks with Fulham about succeeding Mark Hughes, according to Mail on Sunday report this morning.
The former Aston Villa boss, who has been out of management for ten months after leaving Villa Park, is the main challenger to bookmakers’ favourite Martin Jol to take the Craven Cottage job. O’Neill has had preliminary discussions with Fulham about the vacant position and is keen to return to management after reaching a settlement with Aston Villa.
The former Celtic manager is keen to stay in the south so he can continue to live in High Wycombe with his wife Geraldine, who he helped beat cancer back in 2005. O’Neill has regularly been seen at Craven Cottage and is understood to get on well with Fulham chief executive Alistair Mackintosh.
Portsmouth’s survival bid is gathering pace after their eased to a third consecutive win at Fulham.
Midfielder Gary O’Neil’s brace secured a comfortable win at Craven Cottage for Harry Redknapp’s men. They made the perfect start when O’Neill punished an untimely slip from England international Wayne Bridge to poke home Benjani’s cross at the far post.
Fulham level on ten minutes with a magnificent goal from Steed Malbranque. The French midfielder, in an excellent vein of form since returning from injury last month, collected a throw in on the left wing and cut inside before curling a glorious finish off the far post from the edge of the Portsmouth penalty area.
Former Fulham midfielder Sean Davis should have put Pompey ahead again but he contrived to balloon over from close range – much to the delight of the Cottage crowd, who still remember his departure for Tottenham last summer. But the visitors did go back in front through the pacey Lomana LuaLua who sped onto Benjani’s flick, beat Zat Knight and slipped a calm finish beyond Mark Crossley.
The hosts did put the Portsmouth goal after prolonged pressure as they pushed for another equaliser. Brian McBride headed against the crossbar and Collins John screwed a shot wide with only Dean Kiely to beat, but Pompey grabbed a crucial third on the break. O’Neill’s drive from distance flicked off Philippe Christanval’s head and left Crossley with no chance.
Michael Brown was then sent off for a senseless and spiteful lunge on Davis and, even though Fulham, kept pressing forward they couldn’t find a route back into the match. Substitute Heidar Helguson had two good late chances – sending one glorious opportunity over the bar before seeing another shot deflect wide off Andy O’Brien.