For eighty minutes, it was business as usual at Cobham. Chelsea’s Under-18s led Arsenal 2-0 and were comfortably on their way to a third win over the Gunners, extending their lead at the top of the league in the process.
Then things got weird. Sam Greenwood and Matthew Dennis struck with the only two shots the visitors got on target all day, stealing a point, and while a defeat for Fulham means Chelsea have moved a point further clear at the summit, they’ll wonder how on earth they didn’t take all three points here.
They weren’t at their fluid best, sure, but they deserved the first half lead given to them by Marcel Lewis, and they were good value for Joe Haigh’s second shortly after he came off the bench. They might have been more clinical on occasion, and lacked some luck, but this was a match they had in the bag and let escape at the very end.
It was a team missing Lewis Bate, Armando Broja and Valentino Livramento for various reasons, but still a strong team, and one that bossed the contest for long spells. Lewis’ goal came after Sam Iling-Junior, Myles Peart-Harris and Xavier Simons had all gone close, and there were chances to extend that advantage before the break, most notably from an unlikely Charlie Wiggett backheel.
The same pattern of play persisted when second half action resumed. Hubert Graczyk was kept busy and made important saves to keep Lewis and Peart-Harris out, while Jake Askew was little more than a spectator at the other end. The hardest he had to work was to get down to make sure that Dennis’ skidding drive from distance did indeed go wide of the target.
Haigh replaced Peart-Harris midway through the second period and made an immediate impact. Having been on for just three minutes, he collected a partially cleared cross from the left, waited for Graczyk to commit himself, and stuck the ball past him with the utmost composure to make it 2-0. And that really should have been that, except of course, it wasn’t.
Giving Greenwood a chance to strike a dead ball is always a risk, such is his proficiency from free kicks, and he duly dispatched a beauty with 80 minutes on the clock to set up a dramatic finale. Luke Plange somehow contrived to miss an open goal seconds later, and Chelsea were in full-on panic mode when a goalmouth scramble somehow didn’t result in an equaliser.
They were warned but failed to take heed. An Arsenal corner fell to Dennis, who bundled his shot past Askew with the help of at least one deflection, and it was all square again. Yet, still, Chelsea might have won it in the end anyway. Iling-Junior, substitute Harvey Vale, and Simons again had moments in which they could each have been the hero, but this wasn’t to be their day, and they’ll aim to bounce back away to West Ham next weekend.
Chelsea: Askew, Wiggett, McClelland (c), Colwill (Brooking 90), Iling-Junior, Humphreys, Rankine, Simons, Nunn (Vale 82), Lewis, Peart-Harris (Haigh 67)
Subs not Used: Wady, Clark
Goals: Lewis 31, Haigh 70
Arsenal: Graczyk, Oyegoke, Ogungbo, Patino (Cirjan 69), Monlouis, Kirk (Dennis 22), Greenwood, Cottrell (c), Plange, Butler-Oyedeji, Alebiosu (Laing 55)
Subs not Used: Mitchell, Flores
Goals: Greenwood 80, Dennis 87