Chelsea’s Under-18s went down to a first home defeat of the season on Saturday as Leicester City claimed an impressive 2-0 win at Cobham.
Second half strikes from Danny Rowe and substitute Chris Dusabe were enough for the Foxes to take all three points back home with them, and they did so deservedly after putting in a committed and disciplined display.
Adi Viveash’s team selection was the usual mixture of experience and youth, although the presence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Isaiah Brown and Isak Ssewankambo gave the starting eleven more of an Under -21 flavour than usual. All were included with match fitness in mind, particularly the latter pair, who have each spent time sidelined of late.
Schoolboys Jay Dasilva and Jake Clarke-Salter continued in defence after impressive performances in recent weeks, and the forward line of Brown, Dom Solanke, Reece Mitchell and Tammy Abraham threatened goals.
Leicester had initially struggled to pick up results when joining the Category One elite this season but, armed with a sprinkling of England youth internationals, they’ve become increasingly hard to beat and even from kickoff looked a tough matchup for the young Blues.
Chances of real quality were hard to come by in a first half of largely tactical attrition, with the two centre forwards Abraham and Simonas Stankevicius failing to make the most of marginal openings before the Lithuanian and playmaker Rowe both just failed to connect properly with a quick pair of crosses as the visitors pressed for an opener.
Chelsea, and Loftus-Cheek in particular, had a lot of possession but often struggled to go anywhere with it as they faced a well organised grey wall, but later in the first half Solanke worked goalkeeper Sharpe with a long range effort, and the Blues’ top scorer might have done better when faced with a shooting opportunity only to look for Abraham instead. The overhit cross went out for a throw and the two teams retreated inside with the score 0-0 at the break.
Within a minute of the restart, Chelsea managed to carve out a moment better than any which had preceded it. Abraham’s persistence won a corner which was taken by Mitchell, met by Clarke-Salter, and superbly saved by Sharpe as the defender went looking for a goal in three successive outings.
Leicester began to look more dangerous as the game went along, and Rowe in particular was finding time and space in which to work. Twice in as many minutes he was picked out with crosses from the right, but one header went wide and one shot went over the crossbar.
Viveash introduced Charly Musonda in place of George Brady in an effort to spark more creativity, and as Jordan Houghton dropped back into defence it was right-back Ssewankambo who began to have a greater influence. A nice exchange with Abraham ended with another Sharpe save, then Abraham himself was denied when reacting first to a loose ball in the box after more good work from his Swedish teammate.
Rowe wasn’t to be denied though, and at the third time of asking was able to beat Brad Collins with a smart finish inside the near post to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Leicester immediately threw in fresh legs in Chris Dusabe and it took the new man a matter of minutes to mark his arrival in style as he arrived with perfect timing to stroke the ball home unmarked at the far post and all but ensure his team would return home with all of the spoils.
More schoolboys entered the action as Ruben Sammut and Charlie Wakefield got an opportunity to impress, but it was Musonda who nearly reduced the deficit with a stunning long range strike which was expertly beaten away by Sharpe. The ensuing corner saw an even better chance arrive, but Houghton headed over from six yards out; the frustration of the moment written all over his face.
A needlessly niggle final few seconds saw City defender Ben Chilwell sent off for an off the ball incident but it will hardly have taken the shine away from a job well done on their part. Chelsea, meanwhile, had their moments and had bright performers in dispatches, and will look to regroup for a trip to Fulham next weekend.
Chelsea: Collins, Ssewankambo, Brady (Musonda), Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Houghton, Loftus-Cheek (Sammut), Solanke, Brown (Wakefield), Mitchell, Abraham
Subs not Used: Thompson, Christie-Davies
Leicester: Sharpe, Casey, Chilwell, Moore, Jones, Pepe-Ngoma, Bailey, Miles, Stankevicius, Rowe (Dombrauskas) , Ndukwu (Dusabe)
Subs not Used: Burke, Hassam, Anderson