Newcastle United Under-21s twice came from behind to claim a point in a 2-2 draw at a chilly Craven Cottage on Friday evening.
Moussa Dembele continued to enhance his rapidly growing reputation with two well-taken strikes, but he was twice cancelled out by players who have tasted first-team football for the Magpies, firstly Adam Campbell and then Haris Vuckic.
Dembele’s first was a fine finish on the spin, while Campbell’s equaliser came following an unfortunate slip by Tom Richards. The Frenchman’s second showed great elegance to flick the ball in, but Vuckic’s header ensured the points would be shared.
The Whites had chances to put the game to bed, and Kit Symons will no doubt want to see a greater cutting edge from his side throughout the remainder of the season.
The first chance of the game fell the way of the hosts inside three minutes. After Ange-Freddy Plumain had done well to win a corner down the left, Mananga Jonathan Buatu rose unmarked to meet Chris David’s delivery but nodded a yard wide of the far post.
Newcastle responded brightly and their highly rated captain Gael Bigirimana let fly from 20 yards with a ripping effort that beat Neil Etheridge, but thankfully clipped the top of the crossbar.
And after Etheridge had kept out a Bigirimana free-kick in the 12th minute, the Whites countered quickly with Plumain who set Richards through on goal but the left-back’s effort was easily claimed by Jak Alnwick, who was in action again seconds later to push David’s low effort round the post.
With Fulham playing the better football, it came as little surprise when they took the lead on 22 minutes. The Newcastle defenders attempted to intricately play the ball out of their own area but were caught in possession by Dembele who turned cutely before nestling a peach of a shot in the top right-hand corner of the net.
The Magpies looked for an immediate response and broke with pace after Lasse Vigen Christensen had overrun the ball, but Vuckic lashed at his effort and it flew comfortably wide of Etheridge’s near post. Both teams were having chances and Muamer Tankovic almost bagged a spectacular goal but his overhead kick whistled an inch over the bar after a scramble in the box following a corner.
A remarkable diagonal pass from David then found Josh Passley who had sprinted into the Newcastle box – unfortunately the defender’s effort flashed across the face of goal. David was bossing the game and went close with a free-kick in the 35th minute after Buomesca Tue Na Bangna had been felled on the edge of the area.
Three minutes into the second half, Dembele’s pace sent him clear of the Magpies’ backline. He rounded the keeper coolly but lost his footing at the vital moment and sliced wide of the open goal. It was a miss that proved to be crucial as Newcastle went straight up the other end and scored when Richards slipped, allowing Campbell to waltz through on goal and confidently slot the ball beyond Etheridge.
The equaliser buoyed the visitors and Vuckic made sure Etheridge was alert with a bending strike from range, before Adam Armstrong dipped a curling shot just beyond the angle of post and crossbar. Fulham responded with a drilled effort by Tankovic, but it only found the side-netting, with Na Bangna doing likewise minutes later.
A loose ball fell to Tankovic in the 64th minute and the Sweden youth international neatly shifted it away from the advancing defender but blasted his shot high over Alnwick’s crossbar. Fulham rustled the net once more four minutes later but, again, it was the wrong side – this time it was Vigen Christensen who was guilty of missing the target after some good footwork from Na Bangna had seen him played in down the right.
The game was very tight but it was the Whites who got their noses in front, with Dembele again the scorer. A quick break from Passley eventually saw the ball worked out to Na Bangna on the right who played in a square cross which Dembele outrageously flicked into the back of the net.
With the Geordies rattled, Fulham went close to extending the lead through substitute Lyle Della Verde, but his powerful effort crashed back off the crossbar. Dembele then saw a shot from distance deflected wide, before David bent a ball over the top as the home side looked to kill the contest.
A great chance to do just that fell to Vigen Christensen with 10 minutes remaining after good work from David. The Dutchman found the Fulham captain but he dragged his shot wide.
And for the second time in the game, the Whites were made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal as Vuckic headed in at the other end just a minute later.
It looked as though Vigen Christensen had put his side back in front in the 86th minute, though, but Alnwick pulled off a brilliant stop from close range to deny the Denmark Under-21 international, before he was on hand to prevent Dembele bagging his hat-trick moments later as the game’s final chance went begging.
Fulham: Etheridge; Passley, Arthurworrey, Buatu, Richards; Na Bangna, Vigen Christensen, David, Plumain (Della Verde 56); Tankovic (Minkwitz 76); Dembele. Subs (not used): Joronen, O’Reilly, Islamovic
Newcastle: Alnwick; Morgan, Streete, Gillesphey, Haidara (Aird 61); Aarons, Kemen (Quinn 61), Bigirimana, Vuckic; Campbell, Armstrong (Roberts 71). Sub (not used): Pearson.