Brave youngsters lose out

by Ashley Houghton

U18s' super comeback falls just short.

Fulham U18 4 Sunderland U18 3

Sunderland’s under-18 side suffered a narrow 4-3 defeat to Fulham in the semi-finals of the Barclays U18 Premier League play-offs.

Fulham, who won the Elite Group to progress to the final four, led 4-0 after goals from Moussa Dembele, Cauley Woodrow, Patrick Roberts and Stephen Arthurworrey before the young Black Cats staged a fighting comeback through goals from George Honeyman, Victor Zapata-Caicedo and Carl Lawson.

The visitors had to make changes to the side that beat Aston Villa on penalties due to injuries to goalkeeper Peter Burke and defender Tom Beadling;  Joel Dixon and schoolboy Ethan Robson were the replacements with Zapata-Caicedo, who is on trial with the club, starting on the bench.

The Cottagers started brightly and passed with fluidity; Emerson Hyndman the first Fulham player to force a save from Dixon.

The hosts took the lead on the seventh minute through Dembele; Woodrow flicked Marek Rodak’s goal-kick in behind the Sunderland defence and the French youth international latched on to smash home.

Sunderland, to their credit, did their utmost to create openings, though a Fulham side that contained multiple youth internationals were always dangerous on the attack and, but for fine saves from Dixon and two blocks from Tom McNamee and Michael Ledger, their lead would have been doubled sooner.

The Cottagers did make it two-nil on 20 minutes as Roberts cut back for Woodrow to slide home from six yards.

The Black Cats did well to stay in the game until half-time but they were further behind just after the restart as Woodrow turned provider for Roberts who chipped over Dixon as the Sunderland stopper attempted to close the Fulham schoolboy down.

And the hosts made it 4-0 in the 70th minute; Roberts was again the provider, this time from a corner, for Arthurworrey who found space in the area to drive home.

The visitors started their comeback 12 minutes from time when Honeyman weaved his way into space and curled a shot into the corner with the outside of his right boot.

Lawson then went close to getting a second for the young Black Cats but, after Ledger put him in behind, he saw his shot saved by Rodak.

Sunderland did get a second minutes later as Honeyman beat his man and set for Martin Smith who played in Zapata-Caicedo to tap home.

Liddle’s team then had a goal controversially ruled out for offside; Zapata-Caicedo nodded Honeyman’s cross home from what appeared to be an onside position.

Honeyman was provider for the Black Cats’ third goal also; he broke from midfield and set Lawson away who lobbed Rodak to give Sunderland late hope.

Unfortunately the young Black Cats couldn’t find a late equaliser, though their second-half performance was a fine way to finish their 2012-13 campaign.

Fulham will now play Reading in the final.

Sunderland: Dixon, Cartwright, Sukar (Lawson, 45), Agnew, Ledger, McNamee (c), Honeyman, E. Robson, Stinson (Zapata-Caicedo, 45), Smith, T. Robson.

Subs not used: McCarthy, Greenwood, Stryjek.