Monday 20 May 2013
A Moussa Dembele hat-trick inspired Fulham to victory over Reading that sealed the inaugural Barclays Under-18 Premier League title at Craven Cottage.
The French 16-year-old forward capped off a free-flowing team performance with an impressive treble. Both sides finished level on points in the Elite Group stage of the competition and both enjoyed 3-1 home victories in their head-to-head clashes this season, but Steve Wigley's Fulham side took the title after an impressive all-round display in front of England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce.
"I feel we have been the best team all year"
It caps a successful period for the club's youth set-up after they were crowned Premier Academy League champions last season while at the end of March, the Under-19s won the Dallas Cup in the United States.
"To win it two years in a row is massive for the club and the players as well," Fulham captain Cauley Woodrow told premierleague.com. "It feels brilliant. We went 2-0 up and you think it’s all over but it’s not, if they get a goal they are back in it.
"There was a spell when they were all over us and we just had to keep our shape, do what we do best, and we got the goal on the break, which was great."
Wigley added: "We have been the best team all year. We have played a very good Reading side who have won 11 games in a row and you just hope the boys perform on the day and they did.
"It was a tough game and we had to weather a little 10-minute spell but I was delighted with the performance. It's not always about winning but your team has to be competitive and you saw two very competitive teams there today.
"In fairness to Reading they kept going. The game was difficult in the first half but they kept going and my concern was that if they got a goal then they really would have come on fire, so we did well keeping it out."
"Scoring a hat-trick is always good for a striker because it's my job to score goals"
After Fulham had dictated the early stages, Dembele, who was formerly with Paris Saint Germain, opened the scoring on 14 minutes when he cut inside from the left and unleashed a curling strike that found the far top corner.
The hosts were in the driving seat just before the half hour when Dembele beat the offside trap to latch on to a Woodrow ball over the top before calmly slotting past Reading goalkeeper Dan Lincoln. Fulham midfielders Muamer Tankovic and Patrick Roberts also went close before half-time.
Dembele nearly made it 3-0 shortly after the interval but headed narrowly wide after a surging run and cross from Tom Richards. American midfielder Emerson Hyndman was denied by the legs of Lincoln on the hour but Reading came back and piled on the pressure as they looked for a route back in to the match.
With eight minutes left, Reading's Craig Tanner crashed a fine free-kick against the crossbar and the Royals were denied by the woodwork again in the follow-up as Jack Stacey flicked a header, again on to the bar.
Fulham's central defensive partnership of Stephen Arthurworrey and Liam Donnelly resisted more pressure late on, but Dembele made the game safe on 89 minutes when his low strike from the edge of the box found the net via the inside of a post after an excellent solo run from the halfway line.
"English football needs to get more technical and we are playing our part in that"
"Scoring a hat-trick is always good for a striker because it's my job to score goals," said Dembele. "I feel good now. The trophy is big because it means this Academy is very good.
"We have won the title in the last two seasons so that's good for the Academy and English football and now we have to keep going to be better than that."
Reading Academy manager Eamonn Dolan was proud of his players while also paying tribute to Fulham.
"Fulham were superb, they are a fabulous side," Dolan said. "Today wasn't a bad day for us. It would be disrespectful to Fulham if I said I am disappointed with us. I was delighted with our performance. It was Fulham's day and that is down to their good work.
"We showed character and we also showed some good technique. English football needs to get more technical and we are playing our part in that.
"It is a really important day for those boys, they need to experience that pain, they need to come through it but they also need to be optimistic and to reflect on how we could have turned that game our way."