Chelsea won the Premier League’s Under-16 International Tournament a few weeks ago, besting Manchester City in a Final that not only cemented the club’s place as the foremost academy in the country, but also ensured they held the same title at every age group down to Under-13, the lowest the league goes to in that competition.
The form of some of the chief architects of that win demanded greater tests at more challenging levels and so, for the visit of Wolves in the Under-18 Premier League Cup on Wednesday, there were starts for Samuel Iling-Junior, Harvey Vale and Charlie Webster in a young team missing several regulars to the previous evening’s Development Squad triumph at Plymouth.
The cup has often been used as a way to give playing time to some of those who haven’t quite had it on Saturday mornings in the league, and it can often make for surprise results. Blackburn won at Arsenal in the same group four days earlier to make things interesting, and for a long time here it looked like Wolves were going to take something home with them to set up a fascinating third and final match day in late November.
This, however, is a Chelsea team unbeaten so far this season, and one that doesn’t go down without a fight. They fell behind after just seventy seconds, but fought back well and went in ahead at half time, courtesy of a James Clark-inspired own goal followed by Vale’s maiden strike in Under-18 football. Wolves came back and deservedly equalised with a slick team goal fijisged off by Conor Carty, and they were probably good value for a draw.
They didn’t get it though. Two minutes into stoppage time added on largely because of injuries to visiting players, Chelsea mustered one last hurrah. The initial chance looked to have gone, but Charlie Wiggett kept things alive, Vale produced a header back across goal, and Joe Haigh stopped to conquer with his second of the season to date.
It was appropriate that he delivered the knockout blow, such was the quality of his performance. The senior player in a three-man attack despite being just 16 himself, he knitted things together between the midfielders and the forwards, carrying the charge at every opportunity, and taking more than a few fouls for the team. On a day where the fluency wasn’t quite there for the Blues, his attitude and fortitude went a long way to helping secure three important points.
There were bold performances too from Clark and Wiggett, who provided leadership and control when it was needed, while Vale showed why he’s been so impressive at Under-16 level recently with a mature display that will certainly earn him more playing time in the weeks and months to come.
Wolves will look back with regret at missed opportunities; Kam Kandola’s opener signalled a dominant start that should have seen them take more control of the match than they did, especially through the dangerous but wasteful Theo Corbeanu. They offered plenty of glimpses of their quality, particularly with the construction and execution of Carty’s equaliser, but they couldn’t push on and win from there. Substitute Jaden Forrester had the best chance to do so, but found Lucas Bergström in his way when it mattered most.
Chelsea take a three-point lead at the top of Group A ahead of Arsenal, who they welcome to Cobham for the final group outing. A point will be enough for them to advance to the Quarter Finals as group winners.
Chelsea: Bergström, Brooking, McClelland (c), Wiggett, Aina (Badley-Morgan HT), Bate, Clark, Webster, Iling Jr, Vale, Haigh
Subs not Used: Ekwah, Wady, Elliott, Abu
Goals: Scott 29 og, Vale 36, Haigh 90+2
Wolves: Smith, Scott, Estrada, Tipton, Kandola, Lopes (Hodnett 86), Corbeanu (Forrester 76), Parker (Bugarin 86), Carty, Abbey, Cundle
Subs not Used: McLoughlin, Roberts
Goals: Kandola 2, Carty 57