10/03/12 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 4-2 Fulham U18s, Spurs Lodge
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Alex McQueen (16) William Ekong (18) Kevin Stewart (18) Sam Smith (17)
Kenneth McEvoy (17) Jack Munns (18) Grant Ward (17)
Nathan Oduwa (15?) for Darren McQueen, 55.
Victor Zapata-Caceido (17) for Sam Smith, 63.
Dominic Ball (16) for Nabil Bentaleb, 78.
I arrived with a few minutes to spare, and saw the Development Squad doing what looked like the “cool down” part of a training session. I noted that Adam Smith and Massimo Luongo were amongst them, meaning that neither would be on the first team bench for the Everton match.
Spurs lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ward playing as an inverted winger on the left. It was mainly Nabil Bentaleb dropping into defence to retrieve the ball with Lameiras a little further forward, so it could almost be classed as a 4-1-4-1 which is the formation Fulham played, with Lasse Christensen sat in front of their defence. Bentaleb captained the team in the absence of Shaq Coulthirst, who was there watching on crutches and with a protective boot on.
Fulham had the early pressure after they pounced on a William Ekong pass and won a corner from an effort on goal. The corner was eventually cleared but Ekong looked a little shaken by his slight mistake and made a similar error moments later, looking to pass to Granger but under-hitting it a little – Granger rushed out and went to ground to clear.
Spurs gained a foot-hold as Alex McQueen charged forward and created a good opening from which Munns managed to get a shot away, low with his left foot, which was deflected wide. Munns’ looped corner was headed on well by Ekong, but Bentaleb put the loose ball wide on the stretch.
Ekong seemed to quickly grow in confidence, and superbly headed a corner away from a dangerous area. From this clearance, Spurs broke – Darren McQueen found Alex McQueen, who played it wide to McEvoy, in a really good position, only for the Ireland U19 international to give it away with a sloppy pass.
Spurs started to monopolise possession, with the intelligent Ruben Lameiras often at the heart of the good work – his close control, quick passing and movement helping our boys to keep the ball even when pressed. As our long spell keep-ball ended, Fulham broke quickly after winning it back, and Ekong made a vital saving challenge after they seemed set to create a scoring chance.
Play went straight up the other end and Munns made a fantastic pass inside the full back for Grant Ward to run on to. His cross was put into a dangerous area, where Darren McQueen attempted an acrobatic scissor-kick, but didn’t connect properly, and it ran to McEvoy. Unfortunately he was left with a difficult chance on the stretch and he sent the ball over with his side-footed attempt.
Next, Alex McQueen made something of what seemed to have been an over-hit pass by Ekong – he charged the defender down, and tackled wrong-side to hook the ball back, but McEvoy took on an ambitious first-time cross and misjudged it a little.
Kevin Stewart then surrendered possession with a short pass out from the back, but quickly redeemed himself with a clever interception.
The visitors took the lead slightly against the run of play – Cauley Woodrow, signed from Luton for a six-figure sum this time last year, got away from his man and shot across Granger from the right channel. Granger made a decent save but Swede Muamer Tankovic was on hand to tuck home the loose ball. As Spurs returned to the centre circle to kick off again, Munns was angrily shouting something at Kevin Stewart, but I couldn’t quite hear what was said – I presume it was regarding how easily Woodrow found room.
The game suddenly became very open and frantic. First, Munns surged forward and found Lameiras, but his weak effort was easily saved. Then Mahrez (“Maz”) Bettache showed some superb skill in the middle of the pitch to beat his man and then tee up Tankovic, who shot wide. Soon after, a corner was swung in dangerously, but Granger stuck out an arm, and it was strong enough to stop it going in directly.
Ekong picked out a lovely pass for McEvoy down the right and nearly set him free – lifting it over his marker, who stretched and managed to get the top of his head to it, which took it out for a corner. Lameiras’ left-footed corner from the right found Kevin Stewart, who bravely headed on, and Bentaleb put the ball over at the back post.
Spurs equalised on 30 minutes – Lameiras picked up the ball, drove forward and found Alex McQueen with an elegant pass. McQueen cleverly played in McEvoy down the line, who outpaced his man, and pulled the ball back into a great area. Jack Munns, playing off the striker, ran on to it and fired home emphatically.
Fulham missed a good chance to regain the lead when Derek Tieky showed decent ability to find Bettache, who in turn found Woodrow. He lacked the required assuredness in front of goal and Granger saved again. Sam Smith then surrendered possession, and Tieky looked to find Woodrow in the centre again, but Kevin Stewart made a timely interception, nicking it away from the front man.
Spurs had another spell of good possession around the edge of the Fulham box, which ended with Lameiras’ bending shot being comfortably saved. The game was still going from end to end, and Tieky picked out Woodrow, who had pulled away from Ekong at the back post, but he headed harmlessly over when he really should have hit the target.
Granger saved yet again from Woodrow before Grant Ward nicked the ball with the high energy pressing that he displayed all game, and found McEvoy. He steadied himself and slammed the ball home for 2-1 – probably against the run of play yet again!
Things got even better for this clinical Spurs team when Ward picked up possession again through pressing high up the pitch, moved to the left-hand edge of the box, and curled a fantastic right-footed into the far corner.
The second half kicked off on time, with the Fulham players given a relatively short team talk at the side of the pitch, and then sent to get warm again. I overheard a couple of them praising our number 10 (Munns), implying that he was running things.
We looked really confident at the start of the half – Lameiras showing good skill and picking out Ward, who was forced to cross with his left foot and couldn’t quite hook it back, and then Alex McQueen finding Ward again with a good long pass, with Ward winning a corner. Munns’ deep, looping corner was cleared easily this time.
Lameiras hit a firm shot wide, before Ward cut in and found Munns making a move wide to the left – his low cross was attacked by Darren McQueen but the ball was bundled out for a corner. At the other end, Lameiras sold Stewart a little short with a pass, and he was forced into bringing down his man, which gave Fulham a free kick in a dangerous area. Fortunately they elected to cross rather than shoot, and Della Verde’s rather weak effort was easily cleared away.
Nathan Oduwa came on to replace Darren McQueen just before the 60-minute mark. Oduwa is a player that I’d not seen before, and I gather that he is only 15. He has been included in England U16 squads, and so is clearly highly thought of. He replaced McQueen in the striker role, and we scored almost immediately after he came on.
He had little to do with the fourth goal, though – Jack Munns took control of the ball, strode forward, and unleashed an absolute rocket into the goalkeeper’s top left corner – a wonderful strike which seemed to have little back-lift but which positively flew into the net. He was rightly mobbed by his team mates after it went in!
Stewart made a very good challenge on the edge of the box as the tide turned. Fulham made a couple of changes and one of the new players, Omri Altman, looked very tidy. Spurs responded with a further substitution themselves, removing Smith and replacing him with Zapata-Caceido. This resulted in a bit of a re-shuffle, with the new man going up front, Oduwa moving to the left, and the versatile Ward dropping to left back.
Ekong found the only remaining McQueen, who went inside to McEvoy – he clipped the ball back to McQueen over the head of the left back, Richards. McQueen intelligently held the ball up and waited for McEvoy to advance. The Irish winger took up possession and found Lameiras, whose far post effort was well saved.
Fulham got a goal back when they got down the right, and a good pull back found Christensen – who had been playing so deep until then – in a good position, and he turned and finished well (although was given too much space).
Spurs lost some intensity and Fulham had the bit between their teeth now, and Altman found himself in the clear, only for Granger to pull off a fantastic save with his legs to keep Spurs two ahead.
Dominic Ball came on for Nabil Bentaleb to add a bit more physicality in an attempt to stem the flow of Fulham attacks. At the other end, Spurs were struggling to keep the ball, although Oduwa did draw a foul from substitute Robert Maloney. Oduwa’s initial touch was heavy and it looked like he might lose the ball, but his sudden turn of pace meant that he toed the ball away as Maloney’s reckless challenge came in, and he was taken out, earning the Fulham man a yellow card.
Ball got away with a shirt pull in the box as the Fulham player went to ground and the handful of Fulham fans/parents protested to the referee – there wasn’t an awful lot in it, but it’s one that could easily have been given.
Stewart gave away a free kick on the edge of the box with a clumsy but totally unintentional tangle of legs, but Tankovic put it narrowly wide of Granger’s left hand post.
The away side had another penalty appeal when a forward turned sharply in the box, and was taken down by his own momentum – Ekong was obviously leaning on him, though, as when the Fulham man went over, so did Ekong. For me it was less of a penalty than the previous one, but the fans next to me weren’t impressed with the referee!
Oduwa took off down the left, urged on by John McDermott, and beat two men. Unfortunately as he hit the line, he over-hit his cross slightly and it went out for a goal kick.
Spurs saw out the final few minutes for a very good win and, overall, it was an excellent performance, with several long spells of impressive possession football where we passed and move with confidence, style and togetherness. Once we started to make changes we lost a bit of intensity and Fulham took advantage of that, taking the momentum. Once they got to 4-2 there was a spell where it looked like they might come back, but Granger’s superb save with his legs kept us in the game, and he should take great credit for that.
Billy Granger 8 – Definitely won his personal battle with Cauley Woodrow, keeping him at bay on several occasions! His save from Altman was vital. Distribution was generally sound – always looking to play it short – and he was vocal throughout. Could be a little more pro-active in coming off his line, but that will come in time.
Alex McQueen 7 – As energetic as ever – he is becoming a very important player in this team. He has the pace to be able to support the forward but also to quickly track back when necessary. Showed some nice interplay with McEvoy.
William Ekong 7- A slightly shaky start was swiftly put behind him, and he impressed with some dominant headers. His distribution from the back was initially off, but he picked a couple of excellent passes, and turned defence into attack on a few occasions.
Kevin Stewart 8- Really impressive display. Made interceptions, carried the ball out from the back, occasionally switched roles with Bentaleb, and was integral to a good team performance.
Sam Smith 6 – Put in a functional display at left back, and used both feet to pass the ball, which was nice to see. Primarily a central midfield player, though, and will need to take his opportunities there if he is to become a regular.
Nabil Bentaleb 7 – Generally composed on the ball, although did try to force things a little too much – one example being a shot from about 35-40 yards, when keeping the ball was the better option. I liked the fact that he was happy to drop in to cover when Stewart moved forward in possession. Clearly a talented boy, and once he settles he could be a very useful asset.
Ruben Lameiras 8 – I really like the way he plays. In a way he is a little like Tom Carroll – very left footed, great technique, intent on keeping the ball, but he is also more of a goal-scorer, and he had numerous shots in this match. He is becoming one of the real stand-out players in this group.
Kenneth McEvoy 8 – He wasn’t particularly involved for long periods of the game, but everything he was called upon to do, he did well, and he took his goal really well. He tends to explode into life at times, and his link-up with McQueen shows signs of a great understanding. A goal and assist for him – he’ll be happy with that.
Jack Munns 8 – He typically receives the ball with his back to a physically bigger centre back or midfield player, but nearly always manages to wriggle free and turn away. He seems to be one of the main “go to guys” when team-mates want to get rid of the ball, as he will take it anywhere and will generally keep it. His second goal was absolutely sensational.
Grant Ward 8 – His work rate is fantastic, and it was his high tempo pressing that got us ahead. Wanted to come inside more often than not, but his excellent goal made his cutting in worthwhile. Like McEvoy, he got a goal and an assist.
Darren McQueen 6 – He came alive in the box on a couple of occasions, but was largely quite well marshaled by the Fulham centre backs. His pace, however, did mean that they had to be wary and it probably helped to create space for our midfield players.
Nathan Oduwa – Despite his age, his is tall and well built, and reminded me a little in style of Adebayor – always looking to feint to go one way, only to drag the ball the other. Definitely an interesting prospect, and quite different to our other players, so one to keep an eye on.
Victor Zapata-Caceido – He tried hard to impose himself in his short time on the pitch, but Fulham had taken the initiative at that point, so it was difficult for him to have an impact.
Dominic Ball – His first few passes were wayward, but he soon settled and his physicality proved very useful. He was quite lucky not to give away a penalty for a tug back, though.
Re my ratings: Stewart, Munns and Lameiras were probably the best players across the whole game, but due to McEvoy and Ward getting a goal and assist each, and Granger keeping us in the game with key saves, it is hard not to give them 8/10 for their performances (and I don’t do half marks!).