Unbeaten and top of the table heading into the new year, January hasn’t quite been the same for Chelsea’s Under-18s and, after a 3-2 defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday lunchtime left them without a win in three league matches, there’s work to do in pursuit of the title.
How exactly they contrived to lose this topsy-turvy match they’ll never know. Twice they were ahead, early in each half courtesy of goals from Tino Anjorin and Lewis Bate, but twice they let those leads slip, and in throwing caution to the wind to find a decisive winner, they instead left far too much space in behind for Villa to capitalise on and claim the three points for themselves.
It all started so promisingly. Less than five minutes had been played when Anjorin, dropping back down the age groups to get some much-needed playing time, lost his marker inside the box and turned home Marcel Lewis’ free kick.
That should have been the signal for a comfortable afternoon’s work for the Blues, and might have been had Thierno Ballo done better with a great chance set up by Tino Livramento moments later, but it wasn’t to be. Ethan Wady, who had earlier made a good save to stop Carney Chukwuemeka from equalising, misplaced a clearance straight to Aaron Ramsey, and a midfielder of his calibre hardly needed a second invitation to collect the ball and curl it back from whence it came. 1-1, and not even a quarter of an hour on the clock.
Villa flashed their undoubted quality throughout the first half, most notably whenever the classy Chukwuemeka had possession, but it was Chelsea who kept coming up with the chances. Sam McClelland and Josh Brooking went close from corners; Lewis and Lewis Bate from further afield, and the former was denied by home goalkeeper Akos Onodi late in the first half with a volley he might have done better with.
Never mind, said the visitors, we’ll just take the lead early in the second half as well. Lewis’ persistence paid off as he kept hold of the ball in the Villa box and, with the home defenders claiming it had gone out of play, proceeded to square to Bate, who confidently swept home via the far post.
Again, though, they couldn’t hold on to and build upon that lead. Villa produced an equaliser just shy of the hour mark when Jaden Philogene-Bidace powered a strike through a crowded penalty area, with one or two deflections helping it on its way past Wady.
Cue mayhem. Both teams started playing as if there were seconds remaining in a must-win match when, in reality, there was half an hour left on the clock. With all structural play disappearing, chances began to pipe up at both ends. Dion Rankine had the best of them off the bench for Chelsea; Onodi saving one before the second was dragged wide, while Brad Young did similar with a good moment for the hosts.
Ballo’s header came back off the crossbar as he met George Nunn’s cross in the closing stages, but Chelsea threw caution to the wind a little too much, and were sucker punched with four minutes left. Villa found themselves with numbers over on a quick break, where Ramsey had time and space to beat Wady for the second time, and secure a 3-2 win.
A fractious finale saw handbags at the very end, where Josh Brooking was shown a red card for his part in proceedings. The league campaign now takes a break as the Under-18 Premier League Cup returns for the Quarter Finals next weekend, when Chelsea travel to Newcastle.
Aston Villa: Onodi, Kesler, Burton (Campton-Sturridge 81),Sylla, Revan, H.Sohna, Wright (Farr 67), Chukwuemeka, Young, Ramsey, Philogene-Bidace (Archer 67)
Subs not Used: Marschall, Lindley
Goals: Ramsey 14, 57, Philogene-Bidace 58
Chelsea: Wady, Brooking, McClelland, Humphreys, Aina, Bate, Livramento (Rankine 61), Simons (c), Ballo (Peart-Harris 80), Anjorin (Nunn 61), Lewis
Subs not Used: Wiggett, Askew
Goals: Anjorin 5, Bate 48
Booked: Simons, Nunn
Sent Off: Brooking