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Hilton hails Fulham’s teamwork

Matchwinner Sonny Hilton hailed his side’s teamwork as Fulham’s under 23s won a seven-goal thriller in stoppage time at Sunderland last night.

The midfielder scored a sensational winner at the end of a breathless encounter at the Stadium of Light to ensure Fulham’s PL2 campaign got off to the perfect start. Hilton, back in the starting line-up after getting a taste of senior football on loan at TPS Turku over the summer, told FFCTV afterwards he was delighted with his late strike:

“I’m shattered. Up and down – you know – a great game, but I’m made up to get the winner. I was undecided whether to slip it through or keep going. I just took the chance, kept going and scored. It took a little while to go in!”

He was also fulsome in his praise of a young Fulham side, overseen on Wearside by Steve Wigley, who kept battling despite going 3-2 down in the second half.

“Teamwork all day. We were together from start to finish. Score a goal, concede, heads can drop, but we stuck at it as a team. We go 1-0 up, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2 – it’s one of them games. We stuck at it, kept grinding. We’ve got young lads as well so it’s nice to see them working hard with us.”

Hilton strike settles seven-goal thriller

A stunning stoppage-time strike from Sonny Hilton saw Fulham’s under 23s win a seven-goal thriller at Sunderland and get their PL2 campaign off to a winning start. The visitors showed tremendous character to come from behind having surrendered a 2-1 advantage earlier in the second period, with their stirring comeback sparked by a fine long-range finish from substitute Kieron Bowie.

Fulham began brightly, dominating possession with holding midfielder Jonathan Page sending an early effort over the crossbar from distance. Their slick passing moves were causing problems for the Sunderland defence with Irish youth international Ollie O’Neill almost getting clear down the left flank on a couple of occasions and Marlon Fossey flying forward from right back.

Centre back Patrick Almond, who was booked for bringing down the lively Terry Ablade, had the hosts’ first opportunity but his deflected drive was comfortably held by Taye Ashby-Hammond. Ashby-Hammond had to be alert to the danger shortly afterwards to deny Will Harris after a smart one-two with Stephen Wearne and Fulham punished some sloppy defending to take the lead from their next attack. Sixteen year-old Luke Harris continued his excellent summer form by stroking into the bottom corner at the second attempt after Fossey’s cross fell kindly for him in the Sunderland area.

But the Londoners didn’t lead for long. Will Harris brought Sunderland level within five minutes – following up to finish after Ashby-Hammond had made a smart save from Wearne – and the Wearsiders finished the first period in the ascendancy, with Wearne’s clever movement posing particular problems for the Fulham rearguard.

Fulham went back in front five minutes after the interval when Ablade nipped in to steal possession from Almond and surged into the area, firing home a clinical near-post finish. But the home side quickly equalised when Will Harris sent Ashby-Hammond the wrong way from twelve yards after Dyce had been tripped in the box. Sunderland suffered a blow when the lively Wearne had to be substituted following a serious shoulder injury, but his replacement Caden Kelly made an instant impact – swinging in a superb corner that was headed home by Dyce to give Elliott Dickman’s side the lead.

That sparked the visitors back into life. Jack McIntyre, on trial in Sunderland’s goal after being released by Everton, made magnificent saves to prevent Ablade’s low drive from levelling matters and then, from the ensuring corner, clawing away Conor McAvoy’s effort at point blank range. Steve Wigley sent on Kieron Bowie in search of an equaliser and the Scottish youngster obliged almost immediately. The former Raith Rovers forward produced a peach of a finish from 20 yards after turning a defender inside out, with the left-footed strike proving too hot for McIntyre to handle.

Fulham spurned good chances to go in front in the final quarter of an hour. Fossey, who was probably Fulham’s brightest performer as he looks to put years of injuries behind him, thundered forward down the right and delivered a devilish cross for Ziyad Larkeche at the far post, but the French full back hit his half volley horribly over. Hilton squandered an even better chance a couple of minutes later, shooting straight at McIntyre when he looked destined to put the Whites ahead from close range. But the attacking midfielder, recently back from a loan spell in Finland, broke Sunderland hearts in the first minute of stoppage time when he curled a lovely left-footed finish into the far corner after being allowed to turn inside the area.

SUNDERLAND UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): Trialist; Richardson, Newall, Younger, Almond; Wilding, Sohna; Kimpioka (Steels 59), Dyche, Wearne (Kelly 62); W. Harris. Subs (not used): Jessup, Bond, Chapman.

BOOKED: Almond.

GOALS: W. Harris (36, pen 56), Dyche (64).

FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): T. Ashby-Hammond; Fossey, Larkeche, McAvoy, Odutayo; Page (Bowie 70), Pajaziti; L. Harris, Hilton, O’Neill; Ablade (Lanquedoc 90+3). Subs (not used): Las, Araujo.

GOALS: L. Harris (31), Ablade (50), Bowie (75), Hilton (90+1).

Fighting Fulham keep the dream alive

You would have got very long odds on Fulham taking the Championship’s automatic promotion race to the season’s final weekend after their meek surrender at Molineux in November? Had you suggested the Whites might be capable of catching Cardiff following their capitulation at Sunderland before Christmas, the men in white coats might have fetched you from the Stadium of Light. But after seeing Chris Coleman’s men at Craven Cottage last night, there can be little doubt that the momentum is with Slavisa Jokanovic’s men as the battle to join Wolves back in the top flight comes down to the wire.

Bar the first few weeks of the season, there has been so much to admire about Fulham’s majestic football. It took a while for Jokanovic to drill his possession based philosophy into some of his new signings and, as Tim Ream suggested a few weeks ago, there could well have been a subconscious hangover from the pain of losing to Reading in last year’s play-off semi-finals. Much has been written about Fulham’s sublime football and the splendour of their all-conquering midfield trio as well as the continued development of the awe-inspiring Ryan Sessegnon, but perhaps Jokanovic’s biggest success has been instilling a never-say-attitude into his troops.

His side have clawed back an eighteen point deficit to sit above Cardiff this afternoon, although Neil Warnock’s men have an absolutely pivotal trip to Hull City ahead of them later today. Fulham’s belief in their ability and the quality of their football has been absolute and, even if they haven’t always touched the very high standards that the Serbian head coach sets for his players, the Whites have put together an incredible 23-match unbeaten run that has seen them dispatch the division’s best sides and display the crucial characteristic that the very best sides possess – an uncanny ability to win ugly.

Fulham didn’t play well against a stubborn and spirited Sunderland side last night, but they did just enough to get over the line. They needed the resistance typified by Kevin McDonald’s tenacious bite in the tackle, the desire demonstrated by Ryan Fredericks’ repeated bursts deep into enemy territory down the right flank and the desire demonstrated by Aboubakar Kamara. The French forward, derided as a figure of fun by many during his first few appearances in a Fulham shirt, has been waiting a while for his opportunity since Aleksandar Mitrovic’s arrival in SW6 but he turned the game on its head with a barnstorming display down the right flank.

Kamara must be an absolute nightmare for defenders to mark because I’m not entirely convinced he knows what he is going to do next. When he’s on song he is irresistible and it is another indication of his improvement since August that he delivered such a virtuoso performance as a marauding winger last night. Gone is the hesitancy when he gets into a threatening position, as shown he galloped down the wing and slipped in Fredericks for the vital equaliser. There are still all the signature touches of a young man enjoying the joy of football, with a couple of arty back flicks thrown in for good measure, and it was fitting that Jokanovic’s gamble of sending Kamara on for the injured Matt Targett rescued what could have been a desperate situation for Fulham.

Jokanovic insisted afterwards that all the pressure is on Cardiff as the Bluebirds contemplate their final two games of the season. He’s right. Warnock’s men have been up there for most of the year and have shown a few signs of spluttering with the finishing line in sight. You can see from the way that the Fulham boys have been going about their football over the past few weeks that there is a burgeoning belief amongst this squad – a feeling that they are on the cusp of something special. If Cardiff do stumble against Hull or Reading, the Whites are primed to take advantage.

Mitrovic marvels at Fulham’s ‘winning mentality’

Aleksandar Mitrovic toasted Fulham’s winning mentality after his late header secured a precious three points against Sunderland last night and the Serbian striker believes the Whites can claim the second automatic promotion place after climbing above Cardiff City in the see-saw race for the Premier League.

The on-loan Newcastle striker’s decisive header was his twelve goal of a fruitful loan spell at Craven Cottage – and his impact since arriving in west London back in January has been massive. Mitrovic hasn’t lost a game in a Fulham shirt and has helped the club string together a 23 match unbeaten run that has seen the Londoners reel in Cardiff having languished well behind Neil Warnock’s men at the turn of the year.

Mitrovic told the press following his crucial winner:

I haven’t lost and I hope I won’t. Hopefully we only have one game left and we win that as well. This team have a winning mentality, to not lose 23 games in a row you have to show character, mentality, a good relation between the players on and off the pitch.

The 23 year-old was quick to pay tribute to both his team-mates and head coach Slavisa Jokanovic for offering him so many scoring opportunities with Fulham’s fluid style of football.

Yeah, I score goals but the team is doing well so it’s much easier for me when they create chances and play for me. When they get close to the goal every player looking for me. That’s our style, our tactic: to try to find me. Any striker would enjoy playing in that system. In this style as a striker I know I will get one or two chances but I don’t think much about other things. When my chance came I was ready.

Mitrovic gave his strongest hint yet that he would very happy to make his Fulham move permanent come the summer:

We’ll see what happens. I’m really happy, thankful to the fans, the staff, the players. Since the beginning I’ve really enjoyed it here. I don’t know to thank them for all the kind words that I get, all the support from the fans, staff and every person who works in the club. We deserve to be in the top two but we will see what happens.

Odoi hails Fulham’s patience

Denis Odoi admitted Fulham were far from their best during a tense victory over Sunderland at Craven Cottage last night and hailed Slavisa Jokanovic’s side’s patience and character that ground out a crucial win.

Goals from Lucas Piazon and Aleksandar Mitrovic ensured that the battle for automatic promotion will definitely go down to the final day of the season after Joel Asoro had given Sunderland a shock lead midway through the first half. Odoi told FulhamFCTV after the final whistle that he wasn’t expecting an easy game and that Fulham had to work hard for the three points:

It wasn’t an easy game. We needed to be careful because Sunderland got relegated and they weren’t just going to give us the victory. I think we were a little bit unfortunate with the way they went 1-0 up – I don’t think there was really any danger. I also think we weren’t playing our best game. We just needed to stay calm, have patience and we were lucky to get the goal just before half time.

I think we had it also last week. Millwall started very furious and they came out aggressive. We were a bit lucky that they didn’t get a goal and then in the second half we adapted and we showed everybody the way that we play. It was the same today. Sunderland weren’t as dangerous as Millwall but we needed to stay game and play grown-up football and just trust ourselves and trust our game.

If I was playing for Sunderland, I’m not coming here just to give you the victory – I will fight for every piece of grass and that’s what they did. We didn’t expect any less. They played with a lot of freedom and it was a very tough game.

Odoi will be watching Cardiff’s trip to Hull City with interest after the Whites leapfrogged their promotion rivals by gaining maximum points last night.

That’s the best we could have done and now we are putting pressure on Cardiff again. It’s going to be an interesting game tomorrow. We know from experience that going to Hull isn’t an easy game, but Cardiff are also playing for promotion so they will give it their all. We just hope for the best and if they win tomorrow then we’re going to win next week and hopefully then Reading can help us.