Championship promotion hopefuls Ipswich Town could easily have presented a banana skin for Fulham — but Marco Silva’s side were in no mood to pass up opportunities. Even with eight changes, there was little sign of taking the League Cup tie lightly. Harry Wilson opened the scoring in the ninth minutes and from then on the outcome was clear.
At full time, the away fans were singing of Wembley again. Last season, those chants were met by a bruising collapse against Manchester United in the last eight of the FA Cup where, with 20 minutes to play, Fulham were on the cusp of a Wembley return. That night has not dimmed expectations.
“These are the steps that I want the club to take,” Silva said of reaching the last eight, after the 3-1 win. “As a club we have to be really serious the way we approach all the competitions. In a busy week, with Brighton on Sunday and Manchester United this Saturday, our ambition was clear.”
As the players went over to applaud the travelling fans, Joao Palhinha pushed two team-mates forward (lead image). They were Luc de Fougerolles, 18, and Devan Tanton, 19. Both had made their debuts and were encouraged to savour the moment. Watching academy players progress resonates for supporters, and it was the silver lining to an excellent night’s work. But it is also indicative of their coach’s faith. Opportunities are not a given under Silva, certainly not in a game they needed to win.
Opportunity has knocked for the two youngsters. For De Fougerolles, this began in the summer. Right-sided centre-back Tosin Adarabioyo was nursing a long-standing groin issue as the team travelled to the United States for the Premier League Summer Series and, with his future up in the air amid strong interest from Monaco, he did not feature. De Fougerolles stepped in and impressed. Now, with Issa Diop sidelined with a foot injury too, Tosin still out and the need to rest Tim Ream, De Fougerolles had an opening.
Tanton, who was born in Texas but has been capped by Colombia’s under-20s as well as the United States at youth level, has benefited from an injury to right-back Kenny Tete. The attacking full-back has been involved with the senior team and was on the bench against Brighton. At Fulham, training is conducted in a position specific manner under Silva, so if a player drops out through injury, the next player in that position moves up to participate with the group. Internally, the environment is felt to be particularly positive and comfortable, with greater confidence that this cohort of youngsters can enhance training when they step up. As a coach, Silva is said to be willing to forgive mistakes if a youngster is willing to back their abilities.
De Fougerolles, who was pulled aside by Silva on Wednesday morning to be told he would be starting, is a good example of a player who has won the coach’s trust. He has continued to be unfazed by the tasks thrown in front of him. As a defender, he is willing to step forward on the ball and is comfortable under pressure. That is something honed during his years at Fulham, where he started as a centre-back but was a late developer athletically. He played in other positions in defence, before returning to centre-back. On Wednesday night, his physicality was put to the test as he faced a strong challenge against Freddie Ladapo but fared well. His passing accuracy hit 90 per cent, and he won five of his eight duels.
His manager had no concerns about throwing him in.
Fulham’s 17-year-old Canadian de Fougerolles plays with a fearless confidence
“He’s a calm boy. I don’t know what he was feeling when I told him,” said Silva. “He deserved it. He had a very good pre-season, playing in tough games in the Summer Series. He did really well. It’s nice to see the way he’s developing, the way he’s enjoying it. I didn’t have doubts to start him.
“It’s a sign for our boys in the academy. We are following them. If they are doing the right things, they will have the chance.”
Last year, Fulham went out with an youthful squad side against League Two Crawley Town but there has been a different approach. As a sign that Silva was taking no chances, youngster Tanton was due to come on with 10 minutes to play. He had to return to the bench as Fulham conceded and was brought on in the fifth minute of added time.
Before the game, Silva pushed back on suggestions the Carabao Cup should be scrapped to help bigger teams with fixture congestion. He stressed the importance of the competition, and affirmed he wants Fulham to get to Wembley. “We are fighting for that,” he said.
That was evident. Fulham have performed pitifully in domestic cup competitions over the past decade but they have now reached a second quarter-final in as many years. It is their first in the EFL Cup since 2004.
They have never reached the semi-final of the competition but with Manchester City and Arsenal out and Everton away up next, could Wembley happen?
(Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)