Fulham Under-18s returned to winning ways on Wednesday afternoon following a 2-1 defeat of Crystal Palace.
Goals from Muamer Tankovic and Emerson Hyndman, either side of a Palace strike, cemented the Whites’ position at the top of the Barclays Under-18 Premier League Elite Group as our young hopefuls eye a third consecutive league title.
Steve Wigley’s side set the tone early on, with Patrick Roberts and Josh Passley tormenting the visitors down the right. Linking with ease, the pair carved open a number of openings with Cauley Woodrow and Tankovic going close from two teasing deliveries.
With the momentum, Fulham pushed Palace back and were rewarded after just 15 minutes when Roberts flicked Solomon Sambou’s delicate chip into the path of Tankovic. The Swedish forward kept his cool, rolling the ball home with a confident close range finish.
Fulham should have added to their lead, with Hyndman seeing one chance blocked and Woodrow racing through and firing wide. Clever on the deck and imposing in the air, Woodrow led the line with admirable assurance throughout.
Tankovic also went close, while Lyle Della Verde saw a golden opportunity come and go with the goal in sight.
Somewhat against the run of play, Palace levelled, with Fulham failing to clear a corner from the right and we were punished by a stooping header on 40 minutes.
The Whites started the second-half in positive fashion. Another intelligent move from deep freed Roberts, but the young winger saw his strike at goal blocked expertly by a Palace defender.
Roberts then lost his marker with an exquisite twist and turn before forcing the visiting ‘keeper into a fine diving stop. Moments later, Woodrow was next to test the reactions of the Eagles’ stopper following a powerful effort from the edge of the box.
As the second-half progressed, Palace began to frustrate Wigley’s charges, with Liam Donnelly and Stephen Arthurworrey making key interceptions to keep the Palace attack at bay.
A few nervy moments ensued, before Fulham responded with a vibrant final 15 minutes. Substitute Moussa Dembele glided beyond his marker before chipping narrowly over, while a sublime turn and strike from Tankovic also tested the Palace goal.
The Whites refused to give in and, when the ball fell to the feet of Hyndman following a goalmouth scramble, the American midfielder kept his cool to slot home a composed finish on 82 minutes.
Fulham finished the game on top to claim a deserved three points and victory.
Speaking after the match, Academy Director Huw Jennings told fulhamfc.com: “We have played a huge amount of football this season and I think I am right in saying that some of our boys have been involved in more than 50 games.
“Today, we had two Under-16 boys that played the full 90 minutes so naturally that is very pleasing. They were up against tough opposition too, because Crystal Palace are difficult team.
“We’ve played them four times this season, and every game has been a battle. So much effort and energy is needed for these matches. So a lot of credit should be given to our players, who kept going right to the end and were eventually rewarded when that opening appeared.
“We know that we can play good football, but sometimes you have to grind a result out, and that’s what we had to do today. We will play better, that’s certain, but you have to outmanoeuvre your opponents.
“It was important that we didn’t panic, and kept our heads. Our play was very thoughtful and positive at all times. Let’s not forget that some of the boys were involved in the Under-21 game against Aston Villa on Sunday, so to see their application and commitment was terrific.
“There’s only two games of the league season left now, so we’re getting closer and closer. I won’t talk about where we are in the league right now, because we take one game at a time.
“Next up is Manchester United at Motspur Park on Tuesday (kick-off 7pm) and it’s a match that we are all looking forward to. It will be a fantastic game, I think, because we will see two teams who show good quality coming together.”
Fulham U18s: Rodak; Passley, Arthurworrey, Donnelly, Richards; Sambou, Hyndman; Roberts, Tankovic, Della Verde (Dembele 65); Woodrow. (Subs not used): Oberschmidt, Baba, O’Reilly.