Southampton Under-18s slipped to their first defeat in four games, going down at Fulham on Saturday.
Anthony Limbrick’s side – who had seen off West Ham, Everton and Arsenal in their previous three outings – headed into the Barclays Under-18 Premier League game at Motspur Park full of confidence.
But, amid blustery conditions in west London, a first-half double from Aaron Redford handed the Cottagers the points as attentions turn to Saints’ big FA Youth Cup fifth round tie with Leicester City at St Mary’s on Thursday.
The visitors, for whom goalkeeper Harry Isted and last weekend’s matchwinner Carel Kayembe both started, were a touch slow off the mark in the opening exchanges, with Fulham’s dangerous wideman Stephen Humphrys keeping right-back Richard Bakary busy.
The Whites almost took the lead after ten minutes, too, as towering centre half Elijah Adebayo nodded goalwards, but captain Armani Little was well placed to hack away from underneath his own crossbar.
It took until the 21st minute for Saints to register their first effort on target as Olufela Olomola shot straight at Magnus Norman and, at the other end, Isted got down well to deny strong-running forward Redford a deadlock-breaker.
Not long after, however, the hosts seized the advantage. Redford’s persistence allowed him to dispossess winger Harley Willard on the edge of the box before driving goalwards and dinking delicately over the onrushing Isted, giving his team a 27th-minute lead.
Six minutes later it they made it two. Centre-half Ollie Cook – otherwise dogged in the face of heavy pressure – was adjudged to have felled Redford en route to goal. The decision was hotly disputed by Southampton’s backline but, once the referee had quelled the protests, Redford stepped up to smash the spot-kick into the roof of the net, leaving returning custodian Isted with no chance of saving it.
Despite the two-goal deficit, Saints did manage to make a good fist of it after the restart. After Humphrys and Josh Walker squandered decent chances for the Whites, some incisive play on the counter involving Kayembe and Willard gave powerful frontman Olomola a sight of goal. He turned and fired goalwards, only to see his effort cannon back off the post and into the path of Willard, who then blazed over the crossbar as Limbrick’s youngsters sought a way back into the game.
Alfie Jones, who was occupying a holding midfield role, tried his luck from range, but his strike flew high and wide. Southampton threw on Joe Lea and Callum Slattery with the clock ticking down in the hope that they could muster a late reply, but in the end there was to be no repeat of the 4-0 drubbing of the Cottagers that was handed out by Limbrick’s side back in October.
Fulham Under-18s: Magnus Norman, Ryheem Sheckleford, Tayo Edun, Shane Edworthy, Elijah Adebayo, Foday Nabay, Stephen Humphrys, Josh Smile, Aaron Redford (Ryan Sessegnon 83), Lucas De La Torre, Josh Walker (Ravin Shamsi 63).
Unused substitutes: Josh Lukwata, Marlon Fossey.
Goals: Reford (27, penalty 33)
Southampton Under-18s: Harry Isted, Richard Bakary, Kyle Clinton, Ollie Cook, Josh Debayo, Alfie Jones, Carel Kayembe (Callum Slattery 60), Armani Little (c) (Joe Lea 60), Olufela Olomola, Harley Willard, Marcus Barnes.
Unused substitutes: Jake Hallett, Dan Demkiv.