Chelsea’s Under-18s got 2018 off to a winning start with a 2-0 triumph away to Reading at Hogwood Park on Saturday morning.
The cold weather and heavy pitch made for an unglamorous contest, but Chelsea were the better side throughout, and were able to make good on their superiority with a goal in each half. Marcel Lavinier’s first of the season opened the scoring before half time before Conor Gallagher secured all three points with a penalty seventeen minutes from time.
On a busy day for the club that also saw the Development Squad in action at Swansea, as well as the first team with several youngsters included heading for Norwich, careful squad management was required. Jody Morris had a strong squad to pick from and opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation featuring Karlo Žiger in goal behind Tariq Lamptey, Lavinier, Marc Guehi and Jonathan Panzo in defence. Gallagher and Billy Gilmour pulled the strings as midfield anchor men, whilst Tariq Uwakwe, Faustino Anjorin and Juan Castillo carried the attacking charge behind Daishawn Redan in attack.
It took some time for both sides to shake off the Christmas indulgence and find their feet again after the festive break, but Chelsea did so to greater effect, and began to asset themselves. They enjoyed plenty of possession, but found chances hard to come by, with only Gilmour able to find a shooting opportunity early on. Reading allowed them to have the lion’s share of possession, but were effective in limiting what could be done with it.
Indeed, as the half went on, the Royals became more adventurous, and were unlucky not to take the lead when Thierry Nevers was denied by a good save by Žiger down low to his right. It was an important save too, as Lavinier soon put Chelsea ahead, turning sharply to finish Uwakwe’s corner, beating Adam Desbois in the home goal with the aid of a deflection.
Reading still carried a threat late in the the first period when Charlie Lawrence produced a fantastic piece of skill to leave two Chelsea defenders in his wake, but Joe Wilson volleyed wide from his half-cleared cross.
The hard-fought stand-off carried on into the second half with Gallagher and Oliver Pendlebury exchanging long-distance strikes without adding to the scoresheet, but Chelsea were still relatively in command, and began to force their opponents to retreat. George McEachran and Charlie Brown came off the bench to positive effect, with the latter twice going close within five minutes of his introduction, and with just over a quarter of an hour remaining, the Blues got the all-important second goal.
It came in familiar fashion as the ever-lively Tariq Lamptey skipped his way into the Reading area, whereupon he was upended. Referee Sunny Gill somewhat dubiously pointed to the spot for what was a soft penalty, and Gallagher did the rest from twelve yards out.
That was enough to kill off any faint hopes the home team had of rescuing a result, allowing Chelsea to take over for the rest of the match. Castillo, Uwakwe and Lavinier all had good chances to add to the scoreline, as did Brown at the very end, but Morris’ boys remain well clear at the top of the Southern section table ahead of their first home game of the new year next Saturday, when Aston Villa are welcomed to Cobham.
Reading: Desbois, Wilson, Balogun, Nditi, Elva-Fontaine, Buchanan, Simmo, Pendlebury, Stevens (Wallace 45), Lawrence, Nevers (Obamakinwa 64)
Subs not Used: Hillson, Hansen, Pemberton
Chelsea: Žiger, Lamptey, Lavinier, Guehi, Panzo, Gallagher (c), Uwakwe, Gilmour (McEachran 63), Redan (Brown 63), Anjorin (Mola 83), Castillo
Subs not Used: Lewis, Simeu
Goals: Lavinier 40, Gallagher 73 (pen)