Chelsea moved within one point of a fourth consecutive Under-18 Premier League South title on Saturday morning as they avenged their sole defeat this season in beating Southampton 4-0 at Cobham.
The Blues were overturned by the same scoreline at Staplewood in October but, after a stuttering first half of the rematch, they pulled away in the second half with a powerful and incisive display of attacking football. Tariq Uwakwe got the scoring started just before half time before Martell Taylor-Crossdale, Tino Anjorin and Marc Guehi ensured that Jody Morris’ boys can clinch another trophy at West Ham next Saturday with just a draw.
Their penultimate home league match of the season came sandwiched between the FA Youth Cup Semi Final dates against Birmingham City, and although Wednesday’s 3-0 triumph made some decisions easier, there was still a balance to be struck by Morris and company. Six players retained their places in the starting eleven, whilst there was a welcome return for Jonathan Panzo after a month out with a facial injury.
The Blues have lost just four matches since Morris took full stewardship over the group in the summer of 2016, with Southampton responsible for two of them, and the Saints looked to be a tough nut to crack in the early stages of this one. Uwakwe and Billy Gilmour had half-chances from the edge of the area come to little, but it was the visitors who carved out the better openings, as both Kornelius Hansen and Michael Obafemi were guilty of wasting good openings with Chelsea hesitant in defence.
Indeed, the longer the first half went on, the more it looked like Craig Fleming’s side would break the deadlock. Harry Hamblin missed a wide-open goal at the far post from Will Smallbone’s corner when the ball arrived upon him before he expected it, and when Sean Brennan curled one onto the post with Karlo Žiger left rooted to his spot, Chelsea knew they were in for a real test of their credentials for a change.
Their answer was as impressive as always. Shortly before the interval, Panzo got into the Southampton penalty area and, although his first cross was turned away, his second hit the mark. Uwakwe steered home with a first-time effort that Adam Parkes could only get a foot to in the away goal for his second goal of the week but, more importantly, it changed the context of the game for both sides.
The second half was a completely different affair in all regards. Arguably lucky to be in the game at all after 45 minutes, Chelsea now ensured there was to be no doubt about the final outcome as they went through the gears, and asserted their authority with every attack. Gilmour hit the crossbar and Tino Anjorin bounced a header agonisingly wide, but the second goal was coming, and duly arrived in style just before the hour mark.
The move bore all the hallmarks of their successes this term; sharp movement of the ball in midfield before shifting play to the flanks, where Lamptey delivered his eleventh assist of a fine individual year, finding Taylor-Crossdale for the sweeping near-post finish.
Then they began to pull away. Three minutes later, Uwakwe collected possession in the box with Southampton penned deeper and deeper, and although his shot on the turn hit the post, the rebound fell kindly for the Blues as it hit Anjorin, who claimed a sixth goal of the season with an apologetic touch back over the line to make it 3-0.
That soon became 4-0 when Guehi stooped to nod home his eighth goal of 2017-18 from Gilmour’s corner, and the heavy defeat on the south coast had now been fully turned around. A more emphatic outcome could have been secured had Panzo, Uwakwe, or substitutes Clinton Mola and Charlie Brown made the most of their chances, but the hard work had been done.
Southampton, meanwhile, will look back on a first half of what could have beens, whilst they were limited to one effort in goal in the second. Žiger’s save from Will Smallbone’s free kick was the last touch of the game, one that secured a 20th clean sheet of the season for his team, the most in 30 years. Another next week at West Ham will see them secure yet more silverware for their heaving trophy cabinet.
Chelsea: Žiger, Lamptey, Lavinier, Guehi, Panzo, Gallagher (c), Uwakwe, Gilmour (Brown 81), Taylor-Crossdale, McEachran, Anjorin (Mola 75)
Subs not Used: Wakely, Askew, Walters
Goals: Uwakwe 41, Taylor-Crossdale 57, Anjorin 60, Guehi 64
Southampton: Parkes, Ramsay, Vokins, Hamblin, Bradley-Green, Klarer, Hansen (Bartlett 88), Brennan (Davis 66), Obafemi, Smallbone, Afolabi (Siu 66)
Subs not Used: Cull, Robise
Booked: Hansen, Vokins, Bradley-Green