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Wigley delighted with ‘good win’

Steve Wigley saluted Fulham’s patience after the under 23s saw off Stoke with a flurry of late goals to move ten points clear at the top of the PL2 Second Division table.

The young Whites had to wait for the breakthrough against a stubborn Stoke side, who battled hard despite being reduced to ten men in the first half. But, after Idris Odutayo broke the deadlock with an excellent far post header, further strikes from Terry Ablade and Luke Harris allowed the hosts to record a seventh successive victory at Motspur Park.

Wigley told FFCTV:

“We had to be patient. They were a bit unfortunate, obviously, they went down to ten men before half time and it was just a case of keep moving the ball quickly and eventually I felt we’d wear them down. To be fair to them, they competed well but we scored some goals.

Wigley was worried that his side could have been set for a second straight stalemate after being held to a draw at Colchester in the PL Cup in midweek, but praised the quality of the team’s finishing in the final twenty minutes.

“It was very similar to the other night, where we should have scored, we had a plethora of chances and didn’t take them. You start to think, we missed a couple of a good chances and think, ‘Oh no, it’s not going to be another one of them nights’. But to be fair, we scored good goals, put some good balls into the box and it was a good win in the end.”

The under 23 head coach revealed that Fulham might look to allow three or four of his side to go out on loan in January – giving some of the club’s under 18 stars an opportunity to move up a level.

“It’s my job to keep reminding them that all you do is play the next game. You don’t look into the future, you move on from the past and you just play the present. That’s what we’ll do. We’ve got quite a bit of interest in some of the boys to go out on loan in January. We’ll look to take that opportunity – if we could get three or four of them out on loan, because when you’re playing well, people seem to like your players a bit more and then it will be up to other people to step up like Charlie Robinson has done tonight. That’s the plan if I’m honest – and then we’ve still got to try and win games.”

He has been delighted with the continual improvement amongst his group of players, which remains the academy’s mantra.

“I mean the most important thing is that players are getting better. I keep saying to them, ‘As long as you’re improving and developing your talent, the game takes care of itself’. I believe that strongly, that’s what we’ll work towards. If I felt anybody wasn’t improving, I’d be really worried but as a collective, they’re improving as players.”

Fulham U23s put three past Stoke

Fulham’s under 23s were made to wait for their seventh successive win – but three late goals for Steve Wigley’s side secured victory over Stoke City at Motspur Park tonight.

The young Potters side battled valiantly having had Daniel Malone sent off for a horrid lunge at Adrion Pajaziti but were eventually beaten as Fulham made their numerical advantage count in the final quarter of an intriguing contest. Idris Odutayo broke the deadlock with seventeen minutes to play – heading home his first goal of the season from a fine Marlon Fossey cross. Terry Ablade doubled the lead five minutes later with a splendid volley before substitute Luke Harris added a third in stoppage time.

Wigley rung the changes after the international break with Damien Las making his first under-23 start of the campaign and bringing back Ablade and Ollie O’Neill, who scored a dramatic winner on his debut for the Republic of Ireland’s under 21s on his international debut. Fulham began patiently with Kieron Bowie going close with a rasping drive before Ibrahima Sy headed straight at Las after a lovely Stoke counter-attack.

But Stoke’s hopes of troubling the league leaders further were seriously diminished when Malone received his marching orders ten minutes before half time for a rash challenge on Pajaziti. England youth international Emre Tezgel almost gave the visitors a shock lead when he slotted wide of goal after bursting clear of the Fulham back line. Bowie almost gave the young Whites a half-time advantage but his audacious long-range effort crashed against the crossbar.

Fulham were in the ascendancy early in the second half with a speculative Pajaziti drive flying off target and O’Neill was denied by a brave block from Lewis Macari. The lively Ablade, preferred to Jean-Pierre Tiehi in the starting line-up, then drove wide after racing away from the Stoke defence as the hosts still toiled for the breakthrough. Just when it looked like being a frustrating evening, centre half Odutayo popped up at the far post to power home Fossey’s floated ball in and give Fulham a priceless advantage.

That seemed to sap the spirit from the Stoke side. Ablade volleyed majestically past Nathan Broome after excellent work down the left from Ziyad Larkeche and Harris, who replaced Bowie midway through the second half, rounded off the scoring in added time by emphatically firing home. The victory means that Wigley’s in-form side are now ten points clear at the top of the table.

FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): Las; Fossey, Larkeche, C. Robinson, Odutayo; Sessegnon, Pajaziti (Dibley-Dias 86); Hilton, Bowie (Harris 66), O’Neill; Ablade (Tiehi 82). Subs (not used): Allen, Araujo.

GOALS: Odutayo (73), Ablade (78), Harris (90+2).

STOKE CITY UNDER 23s (4-4-1-1): Broome; Jones, Coates, Okagbue, Macari; Malone, Jarrett, Goodwin, James-Taylor; Sy; Tezgel (McCarthy 77). Subs (not used): Hemfrey, Roney, Baker, Cargill.

REFEREE: Tom Bishop.

SENT OFF: Malone (35).

Wigley hails Harris progress

Fulham U23s head coach Steve Wigley has hailed the rise of talented teenage midfielder Luke Harris – suggesting the youngster has the world at his feet after becoming a regular in his side this season.

The Welsh youth international, who has recently been capped by his country at under-19 level, has starred since stepping up an age group level to feature in Wigley’s midfield. He has scored twice for the under 23s, who currently lead the second division by five points, and bagged a brace in the under 18 local derby against Chelsea last weekend.

Wigley has been talented with the playmaker’s progress over the course of this season. He told the Jersey Evening Post:

“He’s a starter for the U23s now, it’s as simple as that. The only time he’s missed out on playing is when a member of the first team, who’s come back from injury, comes down to us to play.

One of the things we’ve not been able to do, because of him being on international duty, is send him up to train with the first team when their players are away on international duty. He’s been away with Wales U19s, the U18s and now the U17s. The next step for him is to train with the first team and we’ve very fortunate to have a manager who likes to have a look at young players. He watches all of the reserve games and when he’s got seven or eight away on international duty he takes four or five from my group.”

“I want to see him play for Fulham’s first team. Then, if we can get him there, the world is his oyster.”

Why Steve Wigley’s promotion is a serious step forward

The news that Fulham have promoted Steve Wigley to become head coach of their under-23 side, after a successful spell in caretaker charge, can only be viewed as a positive move. Wigley has been an integral part of the revival of the Fulham academy under Huw Jennings and Alistair Mackintosh in two spells with the club, beginning in 2012 when he first took charge of the under-18 side. His achievements with that age group have been stellar from the outset.

Wigley won Fulham’s first U18 league title in his first season and led the young Whites to a prestigious Dallas Cup success in the same season. He followed that up by taking a new side all the way to the FA Youth Cup final, where the young Whites were cruelly beaten 8-7 on aggregate by a contentious late winner at Stamford Bridge. Just as important as the results on the pitch was the development of young talent, a key early aspiration of Mohamed Al-Fayed when he took over at Craven Cottage but something that proved significantly harder to achieve until the arrival of Jennings and Malcolm Elias in quick succession a decade ago.

Wigley’s methods and day-to-day nurturing saw the likes of Cauley Woodrow, George Williams, Emerson Hyndman, Moussa Dembele and Patrick Roberts move swiftly through the pathway from his under-18 outfit to the first team – a process hastened when Kit Symons took over as senior manager. Just as significant was Fulham’s success in luring Wigley back to Motspur Park after his spell as assistant to Stuart Pearce at Nottingham Forest came to an end. He has added two consecutive under 18 titles in the past two seasons – establishing attacking principles alongside a demand for hard work as Fulham have firmly established themselves as one of the country’s leading academies. Just how comfortable Fabio Carvalho looks at senior level is arguably a tribute not just to the teenager’s natural talent but his time under the tutelage of Wigley and the club’s other younger age group coaches.

Whilst the under-18 side has been sweeping all before them of late (Wigley has lost just nine games of 51 in since returning to the fold), Fulham have stagnated at under 23-level over the past couple of seasons. Some of this is undoubtedly down to the nature of the competition – the newer age group has never felt as natural a fit as its under-21 predecessor or the reserve games of old, lacking a bit of intensity and with plenty of players wondering whether they will ever make the step up to senior football if they are past 21. There was a significant drop off in performances under both Peter Grant and Mark Pembridge, who is understood to have left the club after eighteen years at Motspur Park, with the club dropping into the second division of the PL2 as well as concern that Fulham’s famed youth development pathway had developed a blockage.

When the club advertised the recruitment of a new head coach at under-23 level following the academy restructure that saw Colin Omogbehin handed a new first-team development position, it was thought Fulham were seeking an external appointment. Wigley took over the reigns on a temporary basis as well as continuing to oversee the development of an almost entirely new under 18 side. It helped that many of the under 23 squad were familiar with his methods have stepped up from the under 18s, but the early results told their own story. Four wins and a draw from their first six fixtures have the Whites level on points with Aston Villa at the top of the table as well as an adventurous and energetic style of play that mirrors how Marco Silva has got the first team operating.

Creative talent, like Sonny Hilton, no longer seems stifled and the emergence of Ollie O’Neill and young Luke Harris at this level shows a commitment to giving players an opportunity regardless of their age. There is significant firepower at Wigley’s disposal, with Jay Stansfield having already demonstrated his eye for goal on the senior stage this season and Finnish forward Terry Ablade having found the net four times in five outings. That’s before Jean-Pierre Tiehi is reintroduced to the set up having reversed course and put pen to paper on a two-year deal last week.

Fulham’s under 23s head to King’s Lynn to take on Norwich City in their latest league fixture tonight in good heart. Wigley, a proven producer of precious talent, now has an opportunity to guide more young starlets towards the first team set up.

Wigley takes charge of Fulham U23s

Steve Wigley will permanently take charge of Fulham’s under 23 side after an impressive stint in caretaker control since the start of the season, the club have confirmed this afternoon.

Wigley, who led Fulham’s under 18s to back to back league titles over the past two seasons, has been managing both of the club’s academy outfits since the Whites launched a recruitment process for a new under 23 head coach late in the summer. The role had previously been shared between former Fulham midfielder Mark Pembridge, who is understood to have left the club during the close season, and Colin Omogbehin, who was moved to a new role as first team development coach after an academy reorganisation.

Wigley has lead the under 23s to four wins from their first six matches in Division Two of the Premier League 2, implementing an attacking style that mirrors the set up favoured by new first team head coach Marco Silva. The transformation from a side that struggled for consistency last season has been stark – and the highly regarded Wigley is keen to keep the momentum going as part of his current head of player develop role. The 59 year-old has been a key part of Fulham’s academy revolution in two spells with the club, joining initially in the summer of 2012 and returning as under 18s head coach in 2015 after a spell as Stuart Pearce’s assistant at his former club Nottingham Forest.

Fulham have appointed Ali Melloul, who has been a member of the club’s academy set up for more than a decade, as Wigley’s successor as the under 18 head coach. Melloul was Wigley’s number two at under 18 level last term.