By Adam Clark
Fulham condemned 10-man Arsenal Reserves to their third successive defeat in a scrappy affair at Underhill on Wednesday.
An Ismael Ehui strike on the half-hour mark gave the visitors a narrowly-deserved lead and when Mark Randall was sent off midway through the second half Arsenal's hopes of a recovery were irretrievably dented.
Second-string boss Neil Banfield named a youthful squad which with the exception of Armand Traore and Mark Randall was the nucleus of Steve Bould's undefeated academy side.
There was also a notable return for Spanish midfielder Fran Merida who had missed the previous three Reserve outings.
After a 6-0 defeat at Reading last time out Arsenal needed a quick start but all hopes faded when Kieran Gibbs fouled in the box inside a minute to give Ehui a chance from the spot. The striker struck his penalty low and hard to Lee Butcher's right but the young Arsenal keeper guessed correctly and expertly tipped the ball around the post.
Despite the save, the penalty gave Fulham belief and 15 minutes had gone before Arsenal began to impose themselves on the encounter. A poor clearance on 16 minutes allowed Merida to slide in Nacer Barazite down the left. The Dutchman cut inside and drilled goalwards only to see his effort strike the in-coming Jay Simpson and deflect out of play.
Moments later Barazite played a quick free-kick to Gibbs but the 17-year-old snatched at his shot and the ball rolled comfortably into the arms of Fulham stopper Jan Lastuvka.
Fulham could have taken the lead on 24 minutes when Gavin Hoyte allowed a long goal-kick to bounce, letting in Ehui in the process. The defender recovered well and with the help of Joe O'Cearuill caused the Fulham striker to miscue his shot.
However, that chance led to a sloppy spell from the home side and moments later the impressive trickster Lino Goncalves neatly turned Abu Ogogo on the edge of the box only to blast over.
The Cottagers broke the deadlock with their next attack. Gonvalves crossed low and hard from the left, the ball found its way to Ehui six yards out and he made no mistake with a clinical finish. His task was made easier by marker O'Cearuill appearing to switch off. The centre back paid the ultimate price for expecting an offside flag.
Four minutes before the break Arsenal had a chance to break when Giorgos Efrem dispossessed Elliot Omozusi on the halfway line. The Cypriot midfielder sped towards the edge of the box only for Omozusi to chase back and cynically haul him down. His yellow card was least he deserved.
Barazite drilled into the side-netting before the break but with the familiarity of the first team Arsenal went in one goal behind.
They started the second half brightly though with Efrem's first-time effort and a long-range strike from Gibbs both bringing diving saves from Lastuvka.
Butcher continued to impress in goal, turning away a vicious Collins free-kick, before substitute Rui Fonte carved out the home side's best chance of the game. The ball broke for the technically-gifted striker and he galloped towards the edge of the box before launching a ferocious rocket that swerved on to the post.
Then came the game's major talking point. Following an off-the-ball incident referee Mr Vaughan met briefly with his fourth official and on returning to the pitch he flashed a red card at the disbelieving Randall. The incident caused a scuffle between players from both sides and when play resumed Arsenal seemed to have left their fight behind.
A succession of hopeful through-balls brought half-chances for Banfield's side but Fulham were defending resolutely. Nonetheless, five minutes of stoppages sparked a late flurry of Arsenal chances. Substitute Vincent van den Berg came closest from the edge of the box but Fulham held on.
Lee Butcher bowls the ball out
Nacer Barazite holds off Collins
Fran Merida and Collins clash in the air
Mark Randall volleys the ball
Randall wrongfoots Collins
Jay Simpson passes Zakuani
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- Ogogo Yellow Card
- Gibbs 61
- Efrem 85
- Randall Red Card
- Simpson 78
- Berg 85
- Lansbury 78
- Fonte 61