Chelsea Under-18s recorded a third straight win on Saturday morning by edging Charlton Athletic 1-0 in a hard-fought affair in South London.
Islam Feruz’s early second half strike was enough for Adie Viveash’s boys to take all three points but they were helped by Jamal Blackman’s superb late penalty save.
Having impressed so much last weekend at home to Fulham there was just one change to the starting eleven, with Tom Howard returning from injury to replace Lucas Piazon, who will play with the reserve team on Monday.
Charlton’s front four featured no shortage of size, pace and strength, and long balls in to the lanky Adebayo Azeez featured early and often from all areas of the pitch.
The first half was a largely scrappy affair as both teams struggled with their footing on a very slippery pitch, whilst the flow of the game was not helped by a referee who made a series of very poor decisions throughout the game.
Tobi Sho-Silva had the first attempt at goal but it was nothing to worry Blackman, and indeed there was a general lack of goalmouth action in the opening 45 minutes.
Charlton perhaps had the better of the opening exchanged and better finishes from either Azeez or Oliver Muldoon might have put the Addicks ahead, but instead captain Blackman was able to watch them wide.
As the half wore on Chelsea found their groove and moved the ball around the midfield a lot better. Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s guile, John Swift’s tenacity and Lewis Baker’s hunger to make things happen began to have an effect and the Blues began to dictate things.
Home goalkeeper Dillon Phillips was called upon to keep out a dipping header by Swift from a corner before beating away an impressive Amin Affane free kick.
The set-piece had been given after Loftus-Cheek had been impeded but with the England Under-16 midfielder still in possession and advancing on goal, advantage should have been played. Instead , it was the perfect example of the sort of thing the referee got wrong in what was genuinely a desperate display of officiating.
Swift again went close before the break after a lovely move involving Baker and Howard but his poked finish glanced the far post instead of finding the back of the net.
Charlton had lost centre-half Harry Lennon to injury and would also see winger Callum Harriott go off hurt in the second half as both teams gave a committed and physical approach. The home team certainly possessed the bigger players but Chelsea refused to back down and competed throughout.
The game’s decisive moment arrived early in the second half and it was another contentious moment for the referee to answer for. Affane won the ball with a challenge on the edge of his own box which saw vociferous appeals for a foul fall on deaf ears.
Chelsea broke clear and Scottish schoolboy forward Feruz beat Semi Ajayi to the long through ball before slotting past Phillips for his second goal since moving south from Celtic.
Charlton stepped up their direct approach in response, bombarding the Blues’ back four with long balls for Azeez to hold up and bring others into play. However, they were struggling to find success as Nathan Aké was outstanding in his personal duel with the forward.
Blackman was rarely called into action to make a save but had one or two nervous moments when closed down in possession by Silva. On each occasion the ball squirted to safety but it gave the young goalkeeper and his defence food for thought.
The visitors rarely impacted upon Phillips’ goal either in retrospect but two dangerous set piece deliveries by man of the match Baker caused consternation in the Charlton goalmouth.
Alex Kiwomya – scorer of a second-half brace last weekend – came on with twenty minutes remaining for the impressive Baker, but with ten minutes remaining the man in the middle made the headlines once again.
Silva broke into the box from the left and in amongst a bundle of bodies it appeared that Swift’s challenge was an illegal one, and so the referee pointed to the spot.
Azeez stepped up but his side-footed effort was low and allowed Blackman to get down and palm it away with a strong left hand to maintain the lead and the clean sheet.
The final five minutes were played with almost every player in Chelsea’s half of the pitch as the aerial bombardment continued. On the break, Kiwomya’s cross picked out an unmarked Baker, but with the chance to seal the points, he headed straight at Phillips.
Swift and Poyet had a nasty collision in which neither player was prepared to give an inch and whilst the former received treatment, there was no serious injury or ill feeling as a handshake settled affairs.
With no further attempts on goal, Chelsea held onto a deserved victory, a second clean sheet in as many away games and a fourth win in five matches.
After a less than stellar start to the season, things are picking up with a more settled team and one or two key players back from injury and international commitments.
With no league match next weekend, the boys have a fortnight to prepare for the visit of Norwich to Cobham before the FA Youth Cup at home to Doncaster Rovers on December 14th at Staines Town.
Team: Blackman (c), Gordon, Davey, Aké, Nditi, Loftus-Cheek, Swift, Baker, Howard (Kiwomya), Affane, Feruz
Subs not Used: Beeney, Dabo, Nkumu, Seremba
Goals: Feruz 49