You remember the hammerings, the emphatic victories, the moments of glory. You don’t often remember the battles won on the way there, but they all count, and they all have meaning.
And so, as Chelsea’s Under-18s continue to chase down Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in hope of clinching not just a fifth straight Southern section title, but also in a bid to retain their national crown, this 1-0 win away to Aston Villa was as important as any three points claimed this season.
Make no mistake about it; this wasn’t a classic. The wind whipped around the Bodymoor Heath training ground despite the Saturday sunshine, the pitch was slow and cut up, and Villa were Villa. Notoriously hard to beat in any season, they’ve given Chelsea particular cause for concern, and so as the Blues headed north they will have known what they were in for.
Without their captain Clinton Mola through suspension, and facing selection issues also impacted by the Under-16s hosting Tottenham in a Cup Semi Final they too would win, Andy Myers and Jon Harley had to dip onto the flexibility of their squad. Henry Lawrence continued at left wing-back, Jordan Aina was pressed into duty at centre-back when Pierre Ekwah Elimby was forced off by injury, and Marcel Lewis played in a deeper midfield role than usual.
George Nunn scored the only goal, his sixth of the campaign a typically opportunistic finish, but Nicolas Tié was the hero of the hour. The Frenchman has struggled for playing time this season after recovering from a long-term shoulder issue, but penalty saves from Indiana Vassilev and Aaron Pressley either side of half time ensured he more than played his part.
Neither team played well, but they didn’t have to, and instead just had to do enough. Lawrence and Lewis were among the best in blue with their sharpness and intelligence coming to the fore, while Sam McClelland played a big role late on on throwing himself at everything Villa could muster in search of an equaliser.
The chase behind their North London rivals continues though. Tottenham best West Ham 5-3 and Arsenal stuffed Norwich 6-2 as they each carried on the free-scoring form that has helped them establish their credentials this term. Chelsea have six points to make up on the Gunners, who they play this coming Friday, and have a game in hand which comes against Spurs themselves in April.
With the top two still to play each other as well, points will be dropped, and so returning back to base with three points from their Midlands excursion will give the youth team renewed hope that they can fight to the finish. It’s an unfamiliar position for a club that usually sets the pace to be in, but an interesting one, and one they’ll learn plenty about themselves in too.
Aston Villa: Sinisalo, Burton, McConnachie, Birch, Patterson, Bridge, H.Sohna, Vassilev (Chukwuemeka 89),Pressley, Guy (Tait 62), Farr (Young 78)
Subs not Used: Onodi, Revan
Chelsea: Tié, Simeu, McClelland, Ekwah Elimby (Aina 54), Lawrence, Russell (Clark 68), Lavinier (c), Lewis, Nunn, Ballo, Peart-Harris (Broja 79)
Subs not Used: Askew
Goal: Nunn 53
Booked: Tié, Lavinier