The start of a new season is a typically exuberant time, full of excitement and possibility, before the grind of the ten months that follows begins to take effect.
Thar wide-eyed wonder at what might be possible brings out both the best and worst in people and, in academy football, that typically means scintillating moments of promise mixed in with no little error. Throw in playing in front of Frank Lampard, most of his coaching staff, and several academy graduates, and Chelsea’s Under-18s had quite a ninety minutes in their first home action of 2019-20.
They saw off a determined West Ham United by a 4-3 scoreline that saw the visitors hand at least three goals to them, as Armando Broja netted a second successive brace in between strikes from Myles Peart-Harris and Dynel Simeu, and although they allowed the Hammers three of their own in return, this was a match the Blues should have won by a more handsome and certainly a more comfortable margin.
They were the better team throughout, they hit the woodwork, they missed several gilt-edged opportunities, and they executed key parts of their game plan well. There were issues, notably in front of goal, and in reacting slowly,to danger in defensive areas, but the positives outweighed the negatives as they flashed their title credentials again, just two matches into the new campaign.
By the time Peart-Harris had swept them into the lead midway through the first half, the beneficiary of a mistake pounced upon by Broja, they should have been well in the ascendancy. Valentino Livramento was denied by a brave tackle by West Ham captain Joshua Okotcha after linking up well with Marcel Lewis, who should have scored himself a minute later only for Krisztian Hegyi to make the first of several important saves.
Lucas Bergström was far less busy by comparison in the home goal, only being called upon to parry from Will Greenidge, but as Broja missed two decent chances to extend the advantage, Chelsea would soon have work to do. Veron Parkes equalised in the 41st minute with a deft near-post header and, a little more than sixty seconds later, Sebastian Nebyla was quickest to react to a rebound caused by Dan Chesters saved shot to send Kevin Keen’s away team in 2-1 up at the break.
That bore little reflection on the contest overall, though, and Chelsea refused to panic. They were level shortly after the restart as Broja won and converted a penalty, and back ahead five minutes later, when Simeu made the most of another defensive miscue. Lewis Bate’s chipped through ball was Hegyi’s to claim, but Okotcha decided to intervene, leaving his opposite captain with an open goal.
3-2 became 4-2 when a short back pass handed Broja the opportunity to add to his tally, something he did happily, doubling his return from the entirety of his 18-19 season inside 100 minutes of the new season.
As more and more first team staff showed up to take in the action, including Frank Lampard and Pete Cech, Chelsea began to turn on the style. Lewis volleyed inches wide at the end of a flowing move down the right involving the outstanding Livramento, while schoolboy substitute Sam Iling Jr came within millimetres of his first Under-18 goal with a curling effort that clipped the angle of post and crossbar.
Instead of adding a deserved gloss to the scoreline, however, they were made to dig in and earn the three points as Sam Caiger muddled and stumbled his way through some less than convincing tackles to reduce the deficit to a single goal. Hearts were in mouths when Kai Corbett delivered a teasing free kick towards Parkes at the death, but Chelsea did enough to see off that particular threat, and retain their 100% start.
They take it to Southampton next weekend, a venue they’ve struggled for consistency at in recent years, in what will be a fixture for them to lay down a marker in as they go about trying to reclaim their South league title crown.
Chelsea: Bergström, Livramento, Simeu (c), McClelland, Colwill, Bate (Humphreys 89), Lawrence, Simons (Rankine 45), Broja, Peart-Harris (Iling Jr 65), Lewis
Subs not Used: Clark, Askew
Goals: Peart-Harris 23, Broja 48 (pen), 64, Simeu 53
West Ham United: Hegyi, Ashby, Greenidge, Appiah-Forson (Adebayo 82), Okotcha (c), Baptiste, Corbett, Giddings, Parkes, Nebyla (Caiger 71), Chesters (Peake 56)
Subs not Used: Sanneh, Keller
Goals: Parkes 41, Nebyla 43, Caiger 83