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Fulham U23s slip to defeat at Stoke

Fulham’s under 23 side were narrowly beaten by promotion-chasing Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium with teenage striker Douglas Taylor grabbing the only goal of the game.

The Potters made it six wins in a row after Taylor pounced in the nineteenth minute, controlling a clever ball inside from D’Margio Wright-Phillips and finding the bottom corner with a composed low finish. The hosts had began brightly, seeing plenty of the ball, but had struggled to create clear chances before their front three isolated captain Conor McAvoy and took the lead. Stoke skipper Ethan Varian had sent their best opening wide when he headed past Taye Ashby-Hammond’s far post with the Fulham goalkeeper well beaten.

The visitors, who included several members of their under-18 side for the trip to the Potteries, recovered well from going a goal down. They thought they had grabbed an equaliser almost immediately through Tyrese Francois’s fine finish from just outside the box, but an offside flag against Jean-Pierre Tiehi controversially ruled out the goal. Mika Biereth and Ollie O’Neill combined cleverly but the Irish midfielder’s curling effort drifted agonisingly wide.

Ashby-Hammond did well to deny Stoke a second when Wright-Phillips appeared destined to double the home side’s lead – and Fulham stepped up their search for an equaliser after the break. It almost arrived early in the second half when Francois found Sylvester Jasper down the left wing and his low cross almost reached Biereth for a tap in, only for Connor Taylor to snuff out the danger with a brilliant last-ditch tackle.

Former Dundalk midfielder Gabby Adebambo struck the post with an effort from distance and, although Stoke enjoyed plenty of possession, they created little else to overly test Ashby-Hammond in the Fulham goal. Jay Stansfield continued his comeback from a lengthy ankle lay-off with half an hour as a substitute, but Colin Omogbehin’s youngsters couldn’t force an equaliser despite a concerted spell of late pressure. Jasper and Adrian Pajaziti both had shots blocked on what was ultimately a frustrating afternoon for the young Whites.

STOKE CITY U23s (4-3-3): Bursik; Coates, Jones, Macari, C. Taylor; Malone, Adebambo, Goodwin; D. Wright-Phillips (Jarrett 78), D. Taylor (Sy 69), Varian. Subs (not used): Hemfrey, Okagbue, Malbon.

GOAL: Taylor (19).

FULHAM U23s (4-3-3): T. Ashby-Hammond; Duru, Larkeche, Bowat, McAvoy; Pajaziti, O’Neill, Francois; Jasper, Biereth, Tiehi (Stansfield 63). Subs (not used): Borto, J. Aina, Odutayo.

BOOKED: Pajaziti.

Decordova-Reid sinks Stoke

This was the archetypal game of two halves. For 45 minutes, Fulham were at their fluent best. They passed their way through a hesitant and jittery Stoke almost at will and should have been far further ahead than the single goal that an in-form Bobby Decordova-Reid snaffled at the far post following some dangerous approach play from Anthony Knockaert. But that dominant Fulham were dormant after the break and, only some poor Stoke finishing, prevented them from paying the price for their lethargy as Michael O’Neill’s men finished by far the stronger.

Scott Parker, perhaps bruised by a crazy Boxing Day draw at Luton Town, opted to praise his side’s defensive fortitude after the final whistle. It had been seven games since the Whites had recorded a clean sheet but they were far from convincing, especially after Alfie Mawson had departed midway through the second period having injured his knee again. The nerves around Craven Cottage were palpable in the final ten minutes when Parker replaced ineffectual captain Tom Cairney with Steven Sessegnon and switched to a back five – something which only invited a sustained aerial bombardment from an emboldened Stoke side.

The Potters might consider themselves unfortunate not to have come away with a point. They forced a succession of late corners and Marek Rodak produced an excellent late save at his post to keep out a volley from James McClean after the former Sunderland winger had latched onto a clever flick-on from substitute Sam Vokes. On another day, one of the loose balls that bounced around in the Fulham box would have fallen kindly for a Stoke forward, but the hosts clung on to three precious points.

Such a nerve-shredding ending didn’t appear likely at all as the home side made all the early running. The recalled Anthony Knockaert started as if he had a point to prove, testing Jack Butland with an early cross-shot from the right, before Josh Onomah underlined his recent improvement from the heart of midfield. His strength and desire took him away from Ryan Shawcross and a lovely disguised pass played in Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbian’s precise shot was beaten away by Butland.

Decordova-Reid and Joe Bryan were dovetailing beautifully along the left flank for Fulham, although the former was booked for a professional foul on Tom Ince as Stoke threatened a counter-attack from a Fulham corner. Fulham continued to play on the front foot and, as Knockaert roamed inside, space opened up for Cyrus Christie. The Republic of Ireland international enjoyed a fruitful afternoon at right back and sent over a delicious cross that Mitrovic should have converted instead of planting a free header over the bar from close range.

The chances were mounting up for Fulham and they soon went in front. Another period of probing in front of the Stoke defence culminated with Knockaert finding more space on the right and, although Butland was able to parry the French winger’s low cross, Decordova-Reid was on hand to slide home his third goal in two games. The hosts might have had more before the break but Cairney curled an effort fractionally wide from outside the box and Butland did brilliantly to claw away a Mitrovic header at the far post.

Fulham failed to start the second half with a similar intensity and it was Stoke who created the early chances. Lee Gregory did well to link up with Sam Clucas inside the home penalty area, but the former Hull midfielder could only rasp the side netting with a fierce drive. At the other end, Mitrovic almost released Decordova-Reid inside the box but a fine tackle from Danny Baath prevented him from making the most of the opportunity.

Stoke were seeing far more of the ball than during the first half and Rodak had to be alert to field a speculative shot from Jordan Cousins after an encouraging spell of possession for the visitors. Fulham’s own attempts on goal were far more sporadic: Mawson couldn’t get a clean connection on a corner and dragged an effort wide, whilst Butland produced a superb one-handed save to deny Bryan’s piledriver from distance after a quick free-kick.

As time ticked by, Stoke looked like the more likely scorers. Substitute Tyrese Campbell, who scored the opener in Stoke’s home win over Fulham back in November, snatched a little at an effort that Rodak got down well to smother before Parker’s early withdrawal of Cairney signalled that the Whites were happy to try and hold onto their slender advantage. Stoke, playing with an injured Shawcross as an additional centre forward at this point, threw bodies forward but their clearest chance fell to McClean, who was bravely denied by Rodak.

Ream hacked a late effort from Joe Allen clear from underneath his own crossbar during six minutes of stoppage time and it said everything about how the balance of power had shifted within this contest that Fulham were relieved to hear the final whistle. The victory takes Parker’s side back to third in the table – nine points behind Leeds and West Brom – but the Whites will need to be far more clinical should they wish to mount a serious automatic promotion push in the new year.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Bryan, Mawson (Odoi 67), Ream; Reed, Onomah (Cavaleiro 37), Cairney (S. Sessegnon 84); Knockaert, Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Johansen, O’Riley, Kamara.

BOOKED: Decordova-Reid, Rodak.

GOAL: Decordova-Reid (26).

STOKE CITY (4-3-3): Butland; Smith, Ward (Martins-Indi 42), Shawcross, Baath; Allen, Cousins (Campbell 75), Clucas; Ince, McClean, Gregory (Vokes 69). Subs (not used): Davies, Lindsay, Woods, Biram Diouf.

BOOKED: Ince, Shawcorss, Martins-Indi.

REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire).


Stoke make £3m move for Fredericks

Stoke City have launched a £3m bid for Fulham full-back Ryan Fredericks, according to several sources this afternoon.

The Premier League club are hopeful of tying up a deal for the former Tottenham and Bristol City defender, who is out of contract in the summer, and believe that a substantial offer could be accepted by the Championship club. The Guardian’s deputy sports editor, Ed Aarons, revealed that the Potters had submitted a £3m bid for Fredericks earlier this afternoon.

he 25 year-old, whose adventurous nature has made him a key part of Slavisa Jokanovic’s plans, has made 73 appearances for the Whites since signing for a nominal fee from the Robins in August 2015 but has yet to agree terms on a new deal, even though negotiations at Motspur Park began during the summer.

It is thought that a number of suitors would be keen on Fredericks, whose fitness has improved greatly since the start of his time at Craven Cottage, and the player himself has ambitions to play at the highest possible level. Jokanovic, who this afternoon issued his employers with an extraordinary ultimatum requesting that they either investment in the squad during the January transfer widow or sack him, would take a dim view of Fulham seeking to cash in on their first choice full back after the Whites failed to replace Scott Malone following the left back’s departure during pre-season.

Murphy deserves more than abuse

Danny Boy

It was a poor game and one any discerning soccer enthusiast would surely rather forget. For once the BBC’s seemingly invariable editorial policy of showing any game involving Fulham and a Premier league team other than the ‘top four’, last or next to last on Match of the Day seemed wholly justified. Not that the BBC’s screening of selected incidents from the game, which lasted barely four minutes and went totally without comment, gave any impression of what us fortunate few Fulham supporters actually present saw and suffered.

True to our expectations, Stoke endeavoured to play to their physical strengths. All the ploys we anticipated were there, including: Delap’s exceptionally long, low trajectory, throws; lots of crosses unsuccessfully directed towards the far-post for the elongated expectant Crouch; and a general endeavour to boss the play in a manner appropriate to their abundance of large and combative players. Fulham’s response was also as expected, with the team for the most part retaining their shape, whilst not so successfully attempting to build a passing game. Only the referee Martin Atkinson acted throughout contrary to stereotype, appearing to be in his rare ‘consistent permissive mode’, (last seen in our cup game last year against Bolton Wanderers.) So as in the Bolton game it was again open season on Bobby Zamora, who was persistently clambered over whilst off-the-ball.

In the end Stoke got fortunate and Fulham fairly late on paid dearly for errors by conceding two goals. (The first goal came seconds after the injured Danny Murphy was subbed, when the area he would have marked was left uncovered.) From this game it is difficult to cite specific positives, though I would mention that the re-united central defender pairing of Hughes and Hangeland worked very well despite a severe testing. Also that Andrew Johnson never stopped chasing and harrying, to the continual disquiet of the Stoke defence. His acceleration and his reaction time now seem quicker than ever.

My abiding impression from the game was of the regrettable conduct of many most vocal Stoke fans who jeered Danny Murphy. He was loudly booed whenever he came into possession of the ball, and subjected to abusive chanting throughout the game. I understand the purported justification for the heated animosity displayed towards the Fulham captain throughout this game was the articles he wrote about a year ago, in which he put forward a reasoned and justifiable critique of teams, including Stoke, who at that time over-relied on physical aggression in their play.

The targeting of any player for abuse can never be justified whatever the perceived circumstances. The selection of Danny Murphy as a hate figure seems particularly perverse given that he personifies intelligence in football, both in the manner he plays with his focus on constructive passing and creative control, and from his perceptive comments on the game. As we always have at Fulham, players with such rare qualities should be cherished.

I spoke with Danny after the game. (It was very good of him to talk to me as he was then in process of applying two large ice packs to the knocks he had received, and was clearly still in some considerable discomfort.) I asked him whether he was, as has been rumoured, The Secret Footballer who writes a weekly column in The Guardian newspaper and who expressed similar views and the time. “I’m not the Secret Footballer” replied Danny. “I wouldn’t write anonymously. Anything I want to say goes out in my name………I think that is important.” Whilst we were speaking the atavistic faces of two Stoke (so called) fans appeared pressed up against the other side of the plate glass window, looking in and mouthing obscenities at Danny. This was a graphic reminder that not only is it important to be prepared to speak out and to be attributed for honest and intelligent opinions, but also that in soccer this can be a brave principal to live by. Sometimes our “beautiful game” has very ugly faces.