Chelsea’s Under-18s returned to winning ways on Saturday morning with a hard-fought 2-0 win at home to Reading at Cobham.
A week after being held to a frustrating goalless draw away to Fulham, a result that brought an end to an eight-match winning run, the Blues were able to find the right formula courtesy of first-half goals from George Nunn and Thierno Ballo. It wasn’t always easy, in unpleasant conditions and against a capable and determined Royals team, but they were deserved victors come the final whistle.
Having taken 29 shots at goal without reward last time out, they hit gold with their first of the day here, taking the lead inside three minutes. Ian Maatsen’s interception set up the opportunity for a swift counter-attack and, after he exchanged passes with Marcel Lewis, the Dutchman provided the cross for Nunn to finish from close range for 1-0.
Not that they would have it all their way though. Reading’s team was more experienced than their recent team selections at this level have tended to be, and the added nous was evident throughout the day. One of the older heads coming back into the fold, Jack Nolan, was agonisingly close to equalising with a curling shot that came back off the post, and it needed the combination of goalkeeper Jake Askew and his defenders to keep Khalid Simmo and Thierry Nevers at bay from the ensuing rebounds.
The visitors certainly enjoyed a period of supremacy but, having failed to capitalise upon it, they were soon punished. Nunn and Jon Russell served notice with half-chances before Lewis proved wasteful with a high finish when well-placed, but he was nonetheless involved in making it 2-0 after half an hour of play. Nunn once again played him in and, although Jokull Andresson was equal to his strike, Ballo was in the right place at the right time to clean up and double the Chelsea lead.
Nolan cursed his own luck again shortly before the break when a spectacular 30-yard hit kissed the top of the crossbar with Askew beaten, and Simmo really should have reduced the arrears when he hopelessly shanked wide with nobody near him in the middle of the area and only eight yards out from goal.
The second half was a tighter affair, all the better from Chelsea’s perspective, and they managed to keep Reading at an arm’s distance for long stretches. They created fewer openings themselves as a result but, when they did, they were good chances that should have been taken, like Andresson’s denial of Ballo one-on-one after a smart passage of play by the Blues.
That was the Icelandic stopper’s last action, as Reading gave England Under-16 goalie Coniah Boyce-Clarke some time off the bench for the second week in a row, and he would be plenty busy before the end. His first save was to show his agility in tipping Jack Wakely’s header over the bar, and he was needed to keep Mola and substitute Armando Broja at bay in the closing stages.
Askew, by comparison, had a quieter time of things as Wakely and his defence marshalled things expertly after a tricky start. Chelsea’s pressing from the front was excellent in the first half, playing a part in both goals and, once they had the lead, they were able to solidify their shape and play the game entirely on their terms.
They close their league campaign for the calendar year in third place in the Southern table, closely behind Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, in what looks like being a three-way fight for the title this term. They travel to Manchester for a League Cup clash against United next weekend, before returning there a week later for their FA Youth Cup Third Round tie in a busy run-up to Christmas.
Chelsea: Askew, McClelland, Wakely (c), Ekwah Elimby, Maatsen, Mola, Lavinier (Aina), Russell (Broja), Nunn, Ballo, Lewis (Lawrence)
Subs not Used: Wady, Simeu
Goals: Nunn 2, Ballo 28
Reading: Andresson (Boyce-Clarke), Pemberton (c), Bristow, Pendlebury, Elva-Fontaine, Hewitt, Simmo, Lawless (Tetek), Moore (Osorio), Nolan, Nevers
Sub not Used: Abbey