Southampton Under-18s were narrowly beaten by Fulham in a tight game at Motspur Park on Saturday lunchtime.
Joe Lea scored for the third time in as many games to give Saints the lead, but goals from Josh Walker and Stephen Humphrys put the hosts in control at the interval.
Walker immediately increased Fulham’s lead after the restart, before Callum Slattery’s low strike brought Saints back to within a goal.
Slattery had a couple of good chances to equalise, but Fulham held out for the win.
On a blustery day at the Cottagers’ training ground, Craig Fleming’s side was looking to end a run of three straight defeats.
Southampton midfielder Thomas O’Connor struck over from long range before goalkeeper Harry Lewis was called into action to deny Fulham striker Walker.
Saints took the lead on 18 minutes when Carel Kayembe latched on to a headed ball forward, and took the ‘keeper out of the game by unselfishly squaring for Lea to knock home from 10 yards.
The hosts were back on level terms almost immediately, though. Saints failed to clear from a free kick and Walker struck past Lewis on the turn to make it one apiece.
Midway through the first half, Fulham edged in front with a penalty. Ben Cull brought down Marlon Fossey in the penalty area, and Humphrys converted from the spot.
Saints were incredibly unfortunate not to level matters before half time, however, as Tyreke Johnson fizzed a ball across the face of goal only for Lea’s point-blank effort to be headed off the line.
Fulham extended their lead soon after the interval. Saints failed to clear a free kick, and the ball ricocheted kindly for Walker to net his second of the game.
Saints enjoyed plenty of possession after that, with Lea and Slattery offering the biggest attacking threat.
Lea could only head straight at the goalkeeper from Yan Valery’s inviting cross, before Slattery hit a left-foot drive inches wide of the post.
Slattery was to have better luck on his right foot just after the hour mark, placing a low strike from the edge of the box past the flailing hand of Taye Ashby-Hammond.
Fulham should have made the game safe when Aron Davies found space at the back post, but the centre-back headed wide.
Slattery then had a couple more chances – the best from Lea’s drilled cross which the midfielder struck wide – as Saints left west London empty handed.
“Defensively it was just not good enough again,” said Fleming after the game.
“As an ex-defender myself, I don’t know whether it’s a dying trade or whether historically we’ve not put enough emphasis on it, but it’s something we’re working hard at to get a bit more consistency in our defending.
“You go one up away from home, and it’s an old cliché but you keep it tight for five or ten minutes and ride it out.
“You play the percentages, and at the moment we’re not doing it and we’re getting punished for it.
“In possession, we were really good and created lots of chances – we weren’t clinical but we did get two goals away from home.
Fulham Under-18s (4-3-3): Taye Ashby-Hammond; Marlon Fossey, Aron Davies, Jerome Opoku, Dan Martin (Moritz Jens 61); Mattias Kait, Matt O’Riley (Cassian Thomas 58), Stephen Humphrys; Luca de la Torre, Josh Walker, Mikolaj Kwietniewski (Isaac Pearce 77). Unused substitute: Jake Soutter (GK).
Goals: Walker (25 & 52), Humphrys (pen 30)
Southampton Under-18s (4-2-3-1): Harry Lewis; Yan Valery, Oskar Cvjetičanin, Alfie Jones, Ben Cull; Thomas O’Connor, Callum Slattery; Stuart Wilkin (Archie Thomas 84), Joe Lea (Ben Rowthorn 88), Tyreke Johnson; Carel Kayembe (Harley Willard 60). Unused substitutes: Jake Hallett (GK), Connor Langan.
Goals: Lea (24), Slattery (66)