They left it late but Chelsea’s Under-18s made it five straight wins in all competitions in defeating Brighton 2-1 away from home on Saturday morning.
Against a difficult opponent and in increasingly trying conditions, the Blues – wearing yellow – were forced to dig deep on the South Coast, particular after seeing Tino Anjorin’s outstanding 77th-minute strike cancelled out by Ryan Longman three minutes later, but they found their resolve and were rewarded when Henry Lawrence headed home in stoppage time.
Always a challenging place to visit, Andy Myers’ team selection for the trip to Brighton immediately underlined the expectation of a physical battle against a side likely to defend in numbers. Dynel Simeu added power and height to a back three also including regulars Jack Wakely and Sam McClelland, while Ian Maatsen and Marcel Lavinier continued at wing back.
Lawrence’s industry alongside the in-form Jon Russell set the midfield up to control the tempo, with George Nunn and Thierno Ballo rotating in dropping off a forward line led by Armando Broja.
It took a long time for the game to get going; Brighton’s studious defending made it hard for Chelsea to break through, but the Seagulls carried a threat going forward too, and it required sharp reflexes from Jake Askew in goal to keep Stefan Vukoje at bay early on.
One or two set pieces aside, the visitors didn’t come close to testing Roco Rees in the home goal until the second half, but when they did, they found a youngster in fine form. His moments would come later, and not before Dan Cashman had wasted a good chance early in the second half, hitting the side netting after connecting with a good reverse pass from Peter Gwargis.
Rees’ first act was a terrific one-handed save to swat away Broja’s header after the striker had flicked Lavinier’s cross towards goal with his head, looking all the way as if he’d opened the scoring. In keeping with the balance of play overall, however, Gwargis went just as close with a deflected attempt from distance that had Askew thankful for the frame of his goal.
Cashman was guilty of missing the target again as Mark Beard’s boys continued to look menacing on the counter-attack, but Myers had dipped into his options from the bench in Anjorin and Marcel Lewis, and their impact would soon be felt.
Rees pulled off another sensational stop to prevent Lewis’ mis-hit cross from sneaking in from a tight angle, but there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop Anjorin from making it 1-0 with just under a quarter of an hour remaining. Sizing up his options some 25 yards from goal, he unleashed an unstoppable shot that crashed in via the underside of the crossbar, providing the something special it was always going to take to break the deadlock.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, the lead didn’t last long. Having failed to keep a clean sheet so far this season, they were once again thwarted here as Longman was left unmarked at the far post from a corner to turn home, and suddenly it was all to play for again.
Lawrence thought he’d grabbed the winner when he reacted first to a blocked Lewis shot, only for Haydon Roberts to clear off the line, but he wasn’t to be denied. Lewis this time provided the cross to the midfielder, who ghosted into position unguarded, and this time made sure his header found the target to make it 2-1 and ensure Chelsea go into the international break very much in the mix at the top of the Under-18 Premier League South.
Brighton: Rees, Tanimowo, Tutt (Shihab 18), Jenks (Leonard 45), Clark-Eden, Roberts, Longman, Spong, Cashman, Vukoje, Gwargis
Subs not Used: Weaire, Zalewski, Tolaj
Goal: Longman 81
Chelsea: Askew, McClelland, Wakely (c), Simeu, Maatsen, Lawrence, Lavinier (Clark 84), Russell, Broja (Lewis 63), Ballo, Nunn (Anjorin 65)
Goals: Anjorin 77, Lawrence 90+2