Fulham Under-18’s involvement in the FA Youth Cup came to an end on Tuesday night as Arsenal’s 108th-minute winner secured the home side’s passage into the Fifth Round.
The Gunners took an early lead when Anthony Jeffrey struck after just nine minutes, the winger finishing smartly beyond the reach of Billy Granger following a perfectly timed pass from Jack Jebb.
Jebb nearly doubled his side’s lead shortly after, with Jeffrey going close too, as Arsenal made the brighter start to proceedings. Serge Gnabry, a player that has already appeared for the first team, then went close with Josh Passley making an expert intervention on the line.
At the other end, Fulham threatened in patches, with the lively Moussa Dembele the main threat going forward. The French youngster twice tested Deyan Iliev in the Arsenal goal.
But the first 45 minutes really belonged to the Gunners as Granger made a smart stop to thwart Jeffrey and Gnabry, who should have made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.
Having had the chance to regroup, Steve Wigley’s side raced out of the blocks and their positive response was rewarded when Muamer Tankovic swept in from Solomon Sambou’s clever run and pass.
The impressive Jordan Evans, a second-half substitute, could have put Fulham in front when jinking through the Arsenal defence before shooting wide, while Cauley Woodrow tested Iliev moments later. At the other end, Granger made two key stops to deny Gnabry as Arsenal issued a warning.
The instrumental Patrick Roberts also caused the Gunners no end of problems, and the 16-year-old went close to putting Fulham in front with 10 minutes left following another slalom run.
Arsenal skipper Isaac Hayden made two brilliant interventions to beat Woodrow sight of goal, with Evans and Tankovic seeing chances come and go as Fulham finished the 90 minutes on top.
With extra-time needed, George Williams came closest for the Whites, but with a penalty shoot-out looming it was the hosts that found the breakthrough as Austin Lipman slotted in a cool late winner.
Speaking to fulhamfc.com, Academy Director Huw Jennings said: “It was a good display from the boys, all that was missing was the result. It’s always disappointing to lose in extra-time, so the manner of the loss was hard to take. I think we did enough to win, especially in the second half where we created a lot of chances.
“Unfortunately, sometimes that just isn’t enough – and that has been proven time and time again in cup football. We just fell a little short against what is a very good Arsenal side. Six of their players tonight are regulars in their Under-21 team, and to be honest, I thought we matched them. Our boys can take a lot of credit from that performance.
“We’ve done really well in the Academy League in recent seasons, and of course, we wanted to do well in the FA Youth Cup because it is a wonderful competition. We have reached the Quarter-Final in two of the past three seasons, so it would have been nice to get that bit further – but it wasn’t meant to be.
“There were still a lot of positives to be taken, and the boys will learn a lot from the experience. I don’t like to single players out, but I have to say that Patrick Roberts was the standout performer tonight – for an Under-16 player he was exceptional. I think the fans should know that we have a very talented schoolboy on our hands with him.
“At 16, he’s got a lot of football ahead of him and we certainly have high hopes for him and a number of our young players. I feel for the second-year scholars, for this was their last chance at the FA Youth Cup, obviously they won't be eligible next season. I know this competition means a lot to our players.
“But we will bounce back, and we’ve got a lot to look forward to. We want to continue the success we have shown in the league and that starts with an exciting game against Southampton this weekend.”