18 players travelled to the lavish surroundings of Motspur Park, where Fulham’s Academy learn their trade. As had been expected, the hosts took control early on with Balham needing to be at their resolute best to avoid conceding an early goal.
Then from this solid defensive base Anton (Vorukov) and Jake (Riddington) started to cause Fulham problems at the other end of the pitch. Midway through the first period, Balham’s creative force in midfield Zaki (Rashid) found Jake on the edge of the Fulham box. He took his chance really well, drilling the ball home from a tight angle to put Balham ahead.
A spell of pressure for the visitors followed, but was ended controversially. The hosts central midfielder found his striker, who looked to be yards off-side. However he played to the whistle, which didn’t come, and calmly rounded the keeper to level the scores. This injustice seemed to spur Balham on. Leonard (Tudorache) and Anton went close before Jake forced a decent stop from the keeper. However a second goal for the visitors did come before the break. Markus (Bleyenburg) heading in from a typically testing Leonard corner.
Coach Derrick (Williams) made seven half-time substitutions and changed his formation. This seemed to unsettle Balham and allowed Fulham to find space and create two quick goals that put them in front. Keeper Dan (Gardner) then needed to make a finger tip save to stop the scoreline getting worse.
Balham reverted back to a 3-5-2 system and set about and getting the result their performance deserved. First Morris (Halm) found some space but was thwarted by the quick thinking Fulham keeper. Next Christian (Williams) created a decent opening but couldn’t quite find a teammate with his cross. Then David (Lopez) was clipped in the box after a neat passage of play, but stayed on his feet avoiding a tough call for the referee. Balham’s last meaningful effort was perhaps their best, Anton’s 20 yard effort rattling the bar with the keeper beaten.
The whistle came prematurely with Fulham the winners by that single goal.
The post match debrief, included a talk from Derrick’s graduate and Fulham Academy player, Xavier Benjamin about how to progress as a footballer. All in all this was a great experience for our players. There were strong performances across the team who came very close to matching their more celebrated opponents.