Fulham beat Reading 3-0 in the Final of the Barclays Under-18 Premier League tournament on Sunday to defend their trophy.
The Under-18s, who were entering their third consecutive Final after winning the trophy last season, have enjoyed great recent success in the league and the Dallas Cup and had a hat-trick from forward Moussa Dembele to thank for a comfortable win at Craven Cottage.
The first chance came Fulham’s way as defender Josh Passley tackled well in the centre of the pitch and the ball found him again to swing a cross in just above the head of Cauley Woodrow. Reading captain Aaron Kuhl then had a shot that was well blocked by Steven Arthurworrey and the defender was called into action again inside the first 10 minutes as Craig Tanner burst into the box but was kept out by our defender’s strength.
The early exchanges were even as Woodrow flicked on to Moussa Dembele, but the forward’s shot was blocked at the last minute by Jake Cooper and Reading counter attacked to go close as the pace of Jack Stacey almost saw him sneak in.
But the deadlock was broken in the Whites’ favour in the 14th minute as a wonderful curling effort from Dembele found the back of the net. The ball dropped to the forward wide on the left and he cut inside to unleash a powerful shot into the top corner of the net with goalkeeper Dan Lincoln left grasping at air.
Having capitalised on their early pressure, Fulham went into the ascendancy and Solomon Sambou’s effort from distance was blocked before Roberts’ whipped cross was cut out by Kuhl before it could reach a Whites head.
On 27 minutes, Dembele had a great chance to double the lead after he was put through on goal by a lovely ball over the top from Emerson Hyndman. The forward evaded a tackle from Cooper and rounded Lincoln but was pushed out too wide and Reading recovered as he blasted the ball over from a tight angle.
The Royals almost hit back immediately as Tarique Fosu-Henry struck a fine shot from just outside the box, but Slovakian goalkeeper Marek Rodak was at his best to palm it away. As the half-hour mark arrived, Craig Tanner had a go from a free-kick on the edge of the area but saw it deflected just over the bar.
Fulham were able to withstand the pressure and we extended our lead on 32 minutes as Reading were caught on the break. A chip over the top from Woodrow saw Dembele set free again and this time the Frenchman stuck the ball coolly into the bottom corner.
At 2-0, the boys weren’t done and Roberts’ run almost created a chance for Muamer Tankovic who curled his shot wide of the post. Just before half-time, Roberts burst forward from inside his own half and beat two men on the counter, but his shot skidded away.
A slow start to the second half saw Fulham given a chance on 51 minutes. Dembele’s flick on found Tankovic and he slipped the ball in to Hyndman whose shot was well blocked in the Reading goal by Lincoln. Then it was end-to-end chances for both teams inside a minute as Tanner’s curled shot was beaten away by Rodak and, up the other end, Tom Richards’ run and fine cross found the head of Dembele, but the effort skidded wide.
Fulham were on the attack again shortly after as Hyndman broke free on the counter and slipped the ball to Woodrow. Lincoln did well to block the striker’s shot with his legs to keep the Royals in the game.
As the game entered its last 20 minutes, Fulham had to withstand some pressure as a cross came in which was cleared by Arthurworrey but flew into the air and cannoned off the top of the bar on the way down. The resulting melee was well cleared and Fulham came close to adding a third on 77 minutes as Tankovic cut inside and forced Lincoln into a diving save.
Reading were looking to get forward and find a way back into the game, which they almost did through Uche Ikpeazu but the striker’s shot was fabulously blocked by a flying Liam Donnelly. Passley was then forced to get back to clear at the far post as Tanner almost arrived to head the cross home.
A sterling defensive effort was almost broken as Reading hit the bar twice in a matter of seconds. Tanner’s free-kick crashed against the woodwork and Stacey’s follow-up header also hit the upright. The midfielder was then almost put through but Rodak blocked his shot from a tight angle.
But with only minutes left, Dembele went on a mazy run on the counter and hammered home the third. The striker got a little lucky as it went in off the post, but the goal capped a well deserved hat-trick and ensured that the trophy ended up back in SW6 again.
Manager Steve Wigley said: “I’ve felt all along that we’ve been the best team this season and I thought we played like that today. I think we were all very disappointed with the way the Semi-Final turned out [going 4-0 up and being pegged back to 4-3 late on] but what that did was get us ready for today and there was no way it was going to happen again. It certainly focused the mind for today and we could have more goals in what was a great team performance.”
Academy Director Huw Jennings added: “I thought we played terrifically at times today. You saw our resilience in the second half and it was a terrific performance from the boys today. Reading are a very tough team to play – they came into the game on the back of 11 straight wins – and it was a magnificent effort. I’m so proud of what this team has achieved."
Fulham: Marek Rodak; Josh Passley, Liam Donnelly, Steven Arthurworrey, Tom Richards; Patrick Roberts, Solomon Sambou, Emerson Hyndman, Muamer Tankovic; Cauley Woodrow, Moussa Dembele. Subs: Max Oberschmidt, Cameron Burgess, Noe Baba, Lyle Della Verde, Jordan Evans.
Reading: Dan Lincoln, Sean Long, Shane Griffin, Aaron Kuhl, Dominic Hyam, Jake Cooper, Jack Stacey, Liam Kelly, Uche Ikpeazu, Craig Tanner, Tarique Fosu-Henry. Subs: Lewis Ward, Sheppard Murombedzi, De’Jaune Taylor-Crossdale, Ben Jefford, Nana Owusu.