A trio of late goals saw Fulham run out 3-0 winners over Aston Villa in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League Cup on Tuesday evening to book their spot in the last-16.
It looked as though the tie would go all the way to extra-time at Villa Park as the two sides searched for a breakthrough, but the crucial opener arrived in the 83rd minute when Moussa Dembele’s fine season continued with a composed finish.
Villa then saw a penalty claim fall on deaf ears and quickly found themselves two down when Dembele latched onto substitute Lyle Della Verde’s pass before finding the back of the net once again.
And there was still time for French winger Ange-Freddy Plumain to add a third when he netted from close range in stoppage time.
The home side named a strong starting XI for the inaugural Cup game, with First Teamers Chris Herd, Nicklas Helenius and Jordan Bowery all involved from the off, whilst Fulham had David Stockdale in goal.
Fulham started the contest well but were just lacking an end product to match their neat build-up play, although Lasse Vigen Christensen and Plumain each drew a save from Jed Steer before Villa grew into the game as Bowery was twice denied by Stockdale.
Helenius then saw a chance come and go at the end of the first half and it was his side who came out the stronger following the interval, as he and Callum Robinson both squandered opportunities.
As the game became more open, it was then the Whites who enjoyed the better of the play in the subsequent moments, with Muamer Tankovic and Ronny Minkwitz seeing efforts deflect wide and saved, respectively.
With the final 10 minutes approaching, Plumain and Daniel Johnson both tried their luck, before the clinical Dembele popped up to grab the goal Kit Symons’ boys needed. An excellent long diagonal pass from Minkwitz was killed by the striker’s first touch before he finished coolly from 18 yards.
Villa looked for an immediate response and appealed for a penalty when Jordan Graham tumbled in the area, but the referee ruled no foul and booked Graham for his troubles.
It proved to be a crucial decision as with 88 minutes on the clock Dembele got in behind the Villa backline to collect Della Verde’s clever pass and finish with aplomb.
And with Villa left deflated, Plumain was on hand at the death to notch from close range as Fulham ensured their name would be in the hat for the next round draw.
Fulham: Stockdale; Passley, Arthurworrey, Grimmer, Richards; Na Bangna (Della Verde), Vigen Christensen, Minkwitz, Plumain; Tankovic (Sambou); Dembele