If there’s a trophy to be won, Chelsea’s Under-18s will make it their aim to be the team that does so. And, on Sunday afternoon at a snow-covered Cobham, Jody Morris’ boys did just that, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 to become the inaugural winners of the Under-18 Premier League Cup whilst showcasing their tremendous academy depth in doing so.
The UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup campaigns can often leave several of those who feature primarily in the Under-18 league campaign on Saturday mornings in the shadows a little, particularly as first-year scholars, but this was an opportunity for those boys to take to the main stage for a final in their own right. Manager Jody Morris has, to be fair, taken a broader brush to his Youth Cup selections over the past couple of years, and that in itself paid dividends as two first-half strikes by Charlie Brown saw off a Spurs team that rarely looked like testing the Blues.
There was no Ethan Ampadu, no Callum Hudson-Odoi, no Dujon Sterling, no Reece James, no Jamie Cumming or Marcin Bułka, no Jonathan Panzo, and the likes of Daishawn Redan and Martell Taylor-Crossdale were only substitutes. Chelsea retained six of their starting eleven from last month’s FAYC clash at Stevenage, whilst Scott Parker named eight of the same starters in both matches. Both teams were predictably measured in their opening gambits, with the first fifteen minutes all about a pair of penalty decisions.
Tottenham will have felt slightly aggrieved that an early one didn’t go in their favour, when schoolboy forward Troy Parrott went down under the attentions of Marc Guehi, but their appeals weren’t particularly loud either. To compound their frustration, they then conceded one at the other end when captain and goalkeeper Jonathan de Bie fouled Tariq Uwakwe, who had pounced on a weak backpass. The Belgian custodian was at least able to atone for his mistake, throwing himself to his right to keep out Conor Gallagher’s spot kick, but Chelsea were already beginning to impose their authority on the contest.
They made it count at the next time of asking too. A corner wasn’t fully cleared, allowing the Blues to keep numbers forward, and when Guehi rather scuffed an acrobatic volley, Brown pounced. He slammed home from inside the six yard box with emphasis, notching his seventeenth goal of the season in all competitions, and his fourth of this particular cup run.
He should have had another soon after; latching onto McEachran’s defence-splitting ball, he had forty yards of space in which to make a decision, only to hit the post under the attentions of the recovering TJ Eyoma. The ball rebounded back off the Chelsea forward, forcing De Bie into an impressive reaction save, but the one-way traffic continued. McEachran’s inswinging free-kick almost got a touch home by Brown, before Tariq Lamptey got the better of Jamie Reynolds down the right and drew a good save at the near post.
Tottenham’s resolve saw them come on strong towards half time, but they had been unable to make Karlo Žiger work, and the chances were all Chelsea’s. In the first minute of three added to the end of the first half, Brown doubled his tally with the decisive second, collecting Billy Gilmour’s lovely reverse pass before drilling home from twelve yards out.
Despite trailing, Tottenham lacked the urgency to turn the game around, leaving Parrott too isolated in attack and lacking the numbers in support when they were able to use his hold-up play. Only J’Neil Lloyd-Bennett came anywhere close to finding a shooting opportunity but, when he did, Lamptey was there with a comprehensive tackle to firmly slam the door in his face.
The diminutive full-back then went down the other end and dragged a shot of his own wide, so dominant was he on his side of the pitch, and as Tottenham poured men forwards they left space at the back to be exploited. Chelsea really should have won by a far more handsome scoreline, but they lacked a cutting edge at the end of several counter-attacks, notably when Brown should have turned home for a hat-trick from Castillo’s cross, or when substitute Taylor-Crossdale planted an effort wide from McEachran’s feed.
Žiger did have a late save to make in scrambling low to his left to keep out the hard-working Parrott, but he was determined to record his sixth clean sheet of the season, and the team’s eighteenth, equalling their tally from last season. It was all he had to do, but he was ably assisted by a brave and committed defence in front of him, best exemplified by Marcel Lavinier’s denial of Parrott late on.
Tottenham’s Eyoma had also made a very timely intervention to deny Tino Anjorin a goal from the bench, as Chelsea swept forward incisively, but they were rarely in trouble of ever losing their grip on the trophy that Gallagher gleefully lifted at full time. The first of a potential quadruple for this talented group is in the bag, ensuring theirs would be the first name in the winners’ column for a brand new competition, another they intend to dominate.
Chelsea: Žiger, Lamptey, Lavinier, Guehi, Mola, Gallagher ©, Uwakwe, Gilmour, Brown (Taylor-Crossdale 71), McEachran, Castillo (Anjorin 83)
Subs not Used: Wakely, Tié, Redan
Goals: Brown, ’18, ‘45+1
Tottenham Hotspur: De Bie ©, Hinds, Reynolds, Bowden (Maghoma 59), Eyoma, Lyons-Foster (Dinzeyi 30), Markanday, Skipp (Richards 76), Parrott, Patterson, Lloyd-Bennett
Subs not Used: Oluwayemi, A.Shashoua