This isn’t the sort of match Chelsea lose in academy football, but then this season hasn’t been quite the same as those that have preceded it, so perhaps the stoppage-time defeat to Brighton at Cobham was appropriate.
The highs of the last half a decade are not easily repeatable; success is not guaranteed, and it’s easy to overreact when it comes to an end. Last weekend’s defeat to Arsenal all but confirmed the end of the Blues’ four-year reign as the team to beat in the Under-18 Premier League South, as well as their national crown from last May, but the response to being dethrone was decidedly disappointing.
Brighton are hard to beat, dogged and determined, well-drilled and properly coached, but ultimately not of Chelsea’s calibre. The weather didn’t help either team to play football, the wind whipping up and making good players look amateurish, but these are the conditions you find out about yourself as a footballer in. There are no excuses, only winners and losers, and the Seagulls left celebrating Ben Wilson’s 93rd-minute winner in a match they looked the more likely to triumph in.
They had the better chances, whatever that means in a match that produced all too few of them, as Chelsea looked toothless for long spells. Armando Broja tried to make the best of a rare start up front, but was denied by Carl Rushworth in the Brighton goal with his best effort, and that came at the end of a first half in which Jake Askew had been the busier goalkeeper, notably keeping Stefan Vukoje’s header off the scoresheet.
He produced more second-half heroics to deny Dan Cashman what looked to be a certain goal, one on one without a defender in sight, but received no help at the other end. A cavalcade of crosses from the right foot of Marcel Lavinier came to nothing, George Nunn came off the bench to no avail, and it perhaps spoke volumes that Myers turned to Pierre Ekwah Elimby – a defender – to unlock the door in an unfamiliar attacking midfield role late in the day.
The match deserved to finish goalless, but Brighton had other ideas, and kept playing to the very end. As Chelsea’s captain Clinton Mola struggled to shake off a particularly painful cramp, the opposition in green patiently constructed their last move, where Ryan Longman got in behind down low and cut the ball back for Wilson, who continued his recent fine form with the winner at the very end of time added on.
For an academy that, until last April, had gone more than three years without losing at home, another home reverse felt strange, even if eleven months had passed since the last one. With little to play for in the final weeks of this campaign, more opportunities may be granted to the club’s talented Under-16 generation, who won the Under-16 League Cup on Friday night with a resounding 5-2 win away to Arsenal.
Chelsea: Askew, Clark, McClelland, Simeu, Aina (Lawrence 65), Russell, Lavinier, Mola (c), Broja (Ekwah 81), Ballo, Lewis (Nunn 61)
Sub not Used: Wady
Brighton: Rushworth, Tanimowo, Turns, Carré, Cocoracchio, Clark-Eden, Wilson, Spong, Cashman, Vukoje (Everitt 78), Longman (c)
Subs: Tutt, Zalewski, Tolaj, Lopata
Goal: Wilson 90+3
Booked: Carré, Turns