Fulham’s under 18s finished their pre-season programme by putting four goals past QPR in a comprehensive local derby win earlier this afternoon.
Despite dominating the first half, it took until after the interval for Steve Wigley’s side superiority to be reflected on the scoreboard. Jaylan Wildbore broke the deadlock before Michael Olakigbe added a second and a late double from Terrell Works put a more convincing gloss on the scoreline.
Wigley include five summer scholars in his starting eleven and Fulham quickly warmed to the task with an early curler testing the QPR goalkeeper. Wildbore was unfortunate not to open the scoring in the tenth minute when a strong run culminated in a goalbound shot that was bravely blocked.
Both Works and Wildbore saw shots blocked after bright pieces of approach play from Olakigbe, before Wildbore’s rising drive was tipped over the crossbar. Olakigbe breezed through the Rangers defence before teeing up full back Devan Tanton but his powerful drive comfortably cleared the crossbar.
Fulham did eventually go in front ten minutes after the break. Substitute Lemar Gordon picked out Olakigbe and, although the winger’s effort was well save, Wildbore snaffled up the rebound. Olakigbe deservedly doubled the visitors lead with fifteen minutes to play when he found the far corner from an acute angle after being released by a fine Delano McCoy-Splatt through ball.
Works added a pair of late goals – the second taking a cruel deflection on its way in – as Wigley’s boys warmed up for the start of their Premier League South season in fine style.
They are goalkeepers Michael Allen, Alfie McNally, defender Harvey Araujo, centre backs Caelan Avenall, Charlie Robinson, midfielders Luke Harris, Murphy Parker – son of former Fulham manager Scott, Delano McCoy-Splatt and winger Terrell Works.
Much of the comment amongst the Fulham faithful as Slavisa Jokanovic’s men returned to Motspur Park for the start of pre-season training yesterday surrounded the slender nature of the Serbian’s first-team squad. With six loanees having returned to their parent clubs, fringe players being released and Ryan Fredericks having opted to sign for West Ham, Fulham’s retained list comprised of sixteen senior professionals. The concern is obvious – the top flight’s smallest squad needs significant improvement with six weeks until the start of the new Premier League season.
Giving Jokanovic greater options as he plots a path to top survival will be priority number one for Alistair Mackintosh and Tony Khan, but pre-season also provides an opportunity for the brightest talents from the Fulham academy to stake a place in the senior squad. The leading lights from one of the best youth set-ups in the country don’t need to look too far for inspiration as they begin those gruelling fitness schedules this week. Jokanovic has shown a refreshing willingness to give youth its head from the outset at Craven Cottage with Ryan Sessegnon’s spectacular emergence from promising youngster to English football’s hottest domestic property the most striking example.
Jokanovic hadn’t planned on giving sixteen year-old Sessegnon much more than a few sessions with the first-team to aid his development when Huw Jennings pointed him in the direction of the prodigiously talented schoolboy scholar a couple of summers ago. But such was Sesssegnon’s maturity and eagnerness to learn that he played a full part in the club’s pre-season preparations and earned a senior debut at Leyton Orient. He took to the helter-skelter world of professional football so seamlessly that Jokanovic soon forgot about easing the young lad in and made him a key part of the Whites’ promotion push.
In the absence of stellar signings, there are plenty of players who could follow in Sessegnon’s footsteps. The likes of Matt O’Riley, Tayo Edun and Luca de la Torre have all got a taste of first-team football over the past season with their talent outstripping their tender ages. O’Riley, whose keen eye for a pass excites Jokanovic, might have had more exposure in the senior side had he not been struck down by injury in the middle of last season, whilst de la Torre’s continued development was recognised with a full international cap for the United States last month. Beyond that trio are a few brightest prospects looking to make inroads into the first-team picture.
Fredericks’ departure so soon after Fulham’s promotion back to the top flight opens a gap at right back that many expect to be filled in the short time by Irish international Cyrus Christie, who produced a couple of promising cameos towards the end of last season. But the battle to push Christie all the way will be just as intriguing to watch between Sessegnon’s twin brother Steven, a highly-rated defender who has also played at the heart of the back four for Fulham’s youth side, and the attacking American full-back Marlon Fossey, who trained with the senior professionals yesterday.
Then there’s the Icelandic winger Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson, who had such a successful season for Peter Grant’s under 23 side last year. The 19 year-old is technically gifted and scored some stunners amongst his seven goals for the under 23s last term. He’s now a regular for the Icelandic under-21 side and could be the next young talent to break through if he continues to impress. With starting spots available for Fulham’s first set of summer friendlies, beginning with the behind-closed-doors game against Crawley Town at Motspur Park this Saturday, they’ll be a huge desire amongst the younger contingent to make an impression this week.
Those that do could follow in the footsteps of Sean Davis, whose ball-playing skills and composure in a deep midfield role so impressed Jean Tigana that he adjusted his mdifield to fit the academy graduate into the side that stormed to the Championship back in 2000. Players of the stature of Mattias Kait, who already has sixteen caps for Estonia to his name at the age of nineteen, will be desperate for an opportunity to make the step up. Then there’s the supremely talented Sonny Hilton, a gifted attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, who signed his first professional contract with the club earlier this month. And, given the quality that Jennings’ finely-tuned conveyor belt has been turning out over the last few years, you wouldn’t bet against some of them seizing their chance.
Fulham’s U18s turned in a terrific performance in this morning’s SW6 derby as they thrashed Chelsea 5-0 at Motspur Park.
Steve Wigley’s side made in two derby wins out of two this season – with the two games being Chelsea’s only reverses of the campaign to date – with an adventurous display full of flowing football. Swedish striker Muamer Tankovic scored twice and George Williams, Moussa Dembele and Patrick Roberts grabbed the other goals in a comfortable Fulham win.
After a fairly even first half an hour, Fulham went ahead thanks to some predatory finishing from Tankovic. The former IFK Norkkoping forward reacted quickest after Patrick Roberts’ powerful drive came back off the crossbar and forced the ball into an unguarded net. The Swedish youth international grabbed a second just moments later. The lively Dembele had already hit a post before a loose clearance from Chelsea goalkeeper Ben Killip allowed Tankovic a clear sight of goal. The striker swiftly advanced on goal and clinically finished from ten yards out to double Fulham’s lead.
The second half saw Fulham continue to press forward and Tankovic saw a wicked curler fly over the crossbar as he sought to complete his hat-trick. Chelsea committed numbers forward in search of a lifeline, but ended up being heavily punished at the other end. England youth international Roberts displayed some fine individual skill to leave two Chelsea defenders trailing in his week as he sauntered down the right before an inch-perfect cross gave Williams to the simplest of finishes to make it 3-0 from close range.
The lively Dembele, a consistent threat throughout, sent a free header wastefully over at the far post but wasn’t to be denied a deserved goal, arriving late to finish off another excellent move from close range. With time ticking away, Roberts capped an excellent individual performance with Fulham’s fifth goal – clinically finishing an inviting cross from promising American midfielder Emmerson Hyndman.
Steve Wigley’s side had kicked off the second phase of the competition with a five-goal thumping of Southampton and they were quickly into their stride at Finch Farm. Promising defender Liam Donnelly, capped by the Northern Ireland under-21 side at the age of sixteen, scored his first goal for Fulham with a firm header from a free-kick and striker Mousa Dembele doubled the lead from the penalty after after Patrick Roberts’ solo run was ended by a crude tackle inside the box.
The home side, who came through a tough FA Youth Cup replay in midweek, improved after the break and when George Waring finished a flowing move down the right to halve Everton’s arrears with a quarter of an hour to play, it made for a tense finish. Fulham defended diligently, however, and held on for all three points. Wigley’s boys will look to continue their 100% start to the Elite Group phase at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday morning.