If it’s entertainment and goals you’re after, following Chelsea’s Under-18 team so far this season will have been well worth your time.
The Blues had been involved in five games totalling twenty-six successful efforts at goal prior to today and served up another six this morning as they shared the spoils with Ipswich Town.
Defensive frailties have thus far stopped Adie Viveash’s boys from picking up points as despite plenty of attacking prowess, they have been far too accomodating at the other end and it would prove thus again against the Tractor Boys.
Viveash made four changes from last weekend’s tumultuous trip to Watford, bringing Nathan Ake, Archange Nkumu, Anjur Osmanovic and Tom Howard in for Jordan Houghton, Nathaniel Chalobah, John Swift and Todd Kane.
Ipswich lined up with a side of comparable physical stature to their hosts, something which is often not the case in academy league football. They adopted a high-tempo pressing game and often overloaded numbers in attack, which caused problems for the Chelsea defenders.
Captain Nkumu had the first effort of the match with a header straight at the goalkeeper from Lewis Baker’s corner. Baker is set to serve a three-match ban for his part in the fracas at Watford but the suspension doesn’t start until October 1st, allowing him to play today.
Blues stopper Mitchell Beeney then had to be alert to bail out his defenders after some less than exemplary play handed a fine chance to Byron Lawrence, but Beeney was able to take the ball off his foot sprawling in front of him.
Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been in fine goalscoring form so far this season and the schoolboy was presented with a gilt-edged chance after a quarter of an hour, but could only send his effort over the crossbar when well placed inside the box.
Instead, the visitors took the lead midway through the first half. Confusion over which way the referee had awarded a set piece meant that left-back Adam Nditi was caught out of position, and despite having recovered his ground was less than prepared to challenge for the resulting delivery.
Jonny Leddy beat him to the ball and send a looping header over Beeney from twelve yards out.
The goal signalled the start of a frenetic ten-minute spell during which Chelsea restored order before falling behind again.
Loftus-Cheek grabbed the equaliser with his fourth in six games when he applied a tidy volleyed finish to Ali Gordon’s deep hanging cross. It was a fine flowing move finished in emphatic style by an emerging schoolboy talent.
However, the Blues became their own worst enemy moments later when they failed to clear their lines and handed a chance to the lively Lawrence.
Beeney was able to parry his effort but couldn’t hold onto the ball, merely presenting it to Caolan Lavery, who gladly picked up the pieces for his fourth goal of the season.
Ipswich would take the lead into the half time break and were good value for it, showing more discipline off the ball and plenty of hard work and drive with it.
Viveash introduced Alex Kiwomya ahead of the resumption of play in relief of Osmanovic, who had been quiet, and was no doubt hoping for another impactful performance from a player who has made plenty of headlines in recent weeks.
With a renewed vigour and a determination to get back into the game Chelsea flew out of the traps and Nkumu tested the Town goalkeeper with a stinging long-range try which earned a corner.
Ismail Seremba then dragged a shot wide in a rare moment of opportunity for him. He had been dealt with well in the first half by the towering Jide Maduako but now, with Kiwomya alongside him, he was finding space to play in.
Unfortunately, they were soon to be staring a two-goal deficit in the face. Ake’s backpass was woefully short, allowing sub Jack Simmons to pounce and beat Beeney for a deserved goal and a 3-1 lead.
The strike was eerily reminiscent of Mitch Hancox’s strike for Birmingham in the last home game and is clearly an area the team (and individuals) need to work on.
Baker had a tame effort saved in response and after Kiwomya’s vociferous penalty appeal was turned down, Chelsea were handed a way back into the match as another shout for a spot kick was successful.
Good play down the right saw Gordon break onto a loose ball in the box, and as the right-back arrived first to the ball he was felled for a routine penalty decision. Baker stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way for his first goal of the season.
Seconds later and Chelsea were inches away from parity. Kiwomya broke clear but was denied by the Ipswich goalkeeper’s sweeping ability.
His clearing skills were not quite so good though and he merely picked out Loftus-Cheek, who chipped the ball back over his head but watched agonisingly as it hit the crossbar and bounced back out.
An all-action game was now taking a toll physically, so Viveash threw on Swift and Sam Bangura to replace Rohan Ince and Nkumu, with Nditi taking over as captain.
The team now featured just first-year scholars and schoolboys and their enthusiasm and fearlessness came to the fore as the game ticked into the final quarter.
Ipswich had conceded ground but still adopted a high defensive line, which threatened to be their downfall on more than one occasion as Kiwomya played on the shoulder of the last man, but never quite got the delivery to match the run.
Town had one or two chances to put the game to bed but by hook or by crook Chelsea found a way to come away unscathed. Nditi, meanwhile, struck a thunderous effort from close range which hit the post and remarkably left the frame of the goal intact; such was the ferocity of the effort.
With less than five minutes to go, the hosts grabbed themselves a deserved share of the spoils as Baker’s corner caused problems at the back and under pressure from Ake, Ipswich defender Acott could do little other than bundle the ball over his own line.
Chelsea really should have then won the game as Kiwomya finally got the pass he was after, breaking clear on goal from the left side, but his shot was poor and easily saved.
The youth team’s top goalscorer can be forgiven for going for goal but did have Loftus-Cheek rampaging up alongside him and an unselfish pass may have resulted in the decisive fourth goal.
As it was, the full time whistle meant it was just the six goals in the end as a morning of thoroughly decent entertainment drew to a close with the points shared.
All five of Chelsea’s points so far have been earned from losing positions, whilst in two of their three defeats they have hauled themselves back into the game before succumbing to defeat.
There’s plenty of spirit and fight on show. If everything else comes together, there’s plenty of positives to be building on after half a dozen games for this new intake of academy scholars.
Team: Beeney, Gordon, Ince (Bangura 65), Ake, Nditi, Loftus-Cheek, Nkumu (Swift 60), Osmanovic (Kiwomya 45), Howard, Baker, Seremba
Goals: Loftus-Cheek 26, Baker 58 ‘pen, Own Goal ‘88