Southampton hung on for their fourth consecutive league win in a row to consolidate their position at the top of the U18 Premier League south table but were made to sweat for three points as Fulham almost cancelled out a three-goal deficit at Motspur Park this morning.
The Saints, comfortable winners of the reverse fixture at Staplewood earlier in the season, breezed into a 3-0 lead inside the first half an hour. The first goal was soft and arrived from a set play around just three minutes. French centre back Leon Pambou headed a corner goalwards, although the last touch might have come off the unfortunate Ibane Bowat. The visitors made it two on twenty minutes when Dom Ballard put the finishing touches to a superb break by thumping a powerful strike past Michael Allen.
Worse was to follow nine minutes later. Sonnie Davis sauntered away down the right flank latching onto a through ball from Kami Doyle to further stun a shell-shocked Fulham side. Ali Melloul’s men had been completely outclassed in the first half but earned a lifeline in the first minute of stoppage time when sixteen year-old striker Oliver Gofford scored his first goal at under-18 level, following up after George Okkas’ effort had been palmed away by Eddie Beach.
Fulham gained more of a foothold in the contest after the break, seeing more of the ball in stark contrast to Southampton’s monopolisation of possession in the first half. The contest appeared to meandering towards a comfortable win for the league leaders but Melloul’s youngsters never gave up. They scored a well-worked second with two minutes remaining when Olly Sanderson headed home a fine cross from Devan Tanton and nearly stole a point in stoppage time as Sanderson played through young forward Aaron Loupalo-Bi, but Matty Carson produced an outstanding saving tackle in the nick of time.
FULHAM UNDER 18s (4-4-2): Allen; Tanton, Parkes, Bowat, Benjamin; Okkas, McCoy-Splatt, Works (Parker 57), Gordon (Loupalo-Bi 49); Gordon; Sanderson, Gofford. Subs (not used): Borto, de Fougerolles, Caton.
The Saints have won each of their last three league fixtures, scoring eleven goals in the process, and are currently a point clear of West Ham at the top of the table with a game in hand. Parkes told Fulham’s official website that his team will be ready to raise their game, having been easily beaten at Staplewood earlier in the season.
“It’s going to be another tough battle this weekend, but I’m sure all the boys are up for it! Southampton are a top side in great form and a win against them this Saturday would be a great testament to the work we put in week in week out.
Of course, getting one back over them would be nice and obviously no one wants to lose, but revenge isn’t on the forefront of our minds and we can’t get caught up in that mindset. Our main focus is to be the best we can be, improve as much as we can and give it 110% everyday. If we continue to hold ourselves to these high standards then come Saturday, I feel the result will take care of itself.”
The full back feels the squad have grown in confidence after winning at Chelsea in the local derby and knocking Manchester City out of the Premier League Cup and praised the character of the team for emerging from a disappointing run of form to play some of their best football of the campaign.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve changed much to be honest. I mean each week we constantly keep training hard, in and around the training ground and so it was only a matter of time before we got back to winning ways. I also feel it says a lot about the characters that we have in the squad, that we were able to endure a rough spell and yet still be able to fight as hard as we do now.”
Fulham under 23’s run of ten league wins in a row came to an abrupt end at AFC Totton last night as Southampton beat Steve Wigley’s side 2-1.
Strikes from Dom Ballard and Kazeem Olaigbe secured a surprise win for a young Saints side, who enjoyed the better of the second period after Fulham’s probing passing had been prominent in the first 45 minutes. Ballard produced an impudent chip over the returning Luca Ashby-Hammond after beating Idris Odutayo to a through ball to give the home side the lead, and although substitute Jean-Pierre Tiehi equalised within five minutes, Olaigbe fired a fine finish into the top corner from Luke Pearce’s pass to seal victory with two minutes to play.
This was a disappointing result for Fulham, who have built up a massive lead at the top of the Second Division table following an outstanding run of form. They failed to capitalise on their dominance in the first period with Sylvester Jasper, back in the starting line-up after returning from his loan at Colchester, testing Ollie Wright with an early shot. Sonny Hilton spurned two good opportunities to give the visitors the lead, shooting just wide from the edge of the area midway through the first half way and then somehow shooting over from close range after great interplay with Ollie O’Neill.
Southampton were far more adventurous after the interval. Odutayo cleared off the line to deny Sonny Davis and Ashby-Hammond saved simply after an excellent individual run from Kamari Doyle. An enterprising run from Olaigbe saw the winger tee up Cam Bragg, whose effort was deflected wide. Ashby-Hammond was called into action again when he made a quick double save after Smith had been sent through on goal.
Fulham were largely threatening on the break at this point with Kieron Bowie being denied an opener by a brilliant Wright save and O’Neill almost surprising the Saints goalkeeper with a looping cross. But it was Southampton who took the lead with nineteen minutes left as Ballard lifted the ball over the advancing Ashby-Hammond after the Fulham defence were caught horribly square. The Londoners levelled almost immediately as Tiehi nodded in a Hilton corner, but Olaigbe snatched the win for Saints in the dying stages of a close contest.
The Scottish striker scored one and made another as Steve Wigley’s side triumphed at Nottingham Forest last week and told Fulham’s official website that he was full of confidence as a result.
We weren’t at our best on Monday but we got the three points which says a lot about this group of players. On a personal note, I’m definitely feeling refreshed after some time off and hopefully I can continue to score goals for the rest of the season and push us to promotion.
I feel I’ve adapted well. I’ve already played against bigger boys than at Under-23s level previously, so I don’t think I’ve struggled in terms of the step up in quality. We try to play our game no matter where it is, as venue shouldn’t make much difference to how we go about doing our things.”
A first half brace from Dominic Ballard secured a routine win for high-flying Southampton over Fulham’s under 18s at the Staplewood Training Centre this afternoon.
Fulham struggled to get their fluent passing game going for much of the afternoon and it was the home side who had the better of the early chances. Saints went close through Tyler Dibling after the winger had drifted in from the right flank and Ballard blasted an effort straight at Xavier Benjamin before Alex Borto produced a brilliant reaction stop to keep out Kamari Doyle’s fine volley.
The hosts were now putting the Fulham goal under significant pressure and it was no surprise when they took the lead after 26 minutes. Ballard had the simplest of tasks to slot home after Cameron Bragg’s venomous drive from distance had rattled the crossbar and the young Whites were indebted to some calm defending from Benjamin, which prevented Doyle from doubling the Southampton advantage.
But Ali Melloul’s men did go further behind just before the interval. Dibling darted past Luc de Fougerolles and squared for Ballard, who stroked home his seventh goal of the season. Southampton were well on top and might have added to their advantage after the break but Luke Pearce shot straight at Borto from a promising position, whilst Doyle drove a free-kick just wide of the target.
Fulham struggled for openings in the final third during a second half which the home side controlled, despite Melloul sending on Lemar Gordon, Stefan Parkes and Terrell Works as substitutes. He will hope that the young Whites can pick themselves up ahead of Friday’s third round FA Youth Cup tie at Everton.