Chelsea’s Under-18 team completed a remarkable run of six successive wins in academy Group 3 so far this season with a dramatic 2-1 victory over rivals Fulham.
The Blues, in their final home game before embarking on a six-match road trip, retained their 100% record courtesy of a last-minute own goal from a Fulham substitute. It followed a similarly late win over Middlesbrough last weekend.
Adi Viveash’s team selections have generally been quite settled thus far, and the core of his team was as familiar as always, but there was a start for Ambrose Gnahore after scoring last week as a substitute, whilst Jon Muleba played at right-back after Fankaty Dabo had 90 minutes in Russia midweek. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and John Swift also took their places in a strong-looking midfield.
Fulham dropped their first points last weekend in a home defeat by Liverpool and came to Cobham keen to make amends. With academy league leading scorer Cauley Woodrow amongst their numbers, they had plenty by way of dangerous options going forward.
Both sides are confident, capable footballing sides who play with intelligence, and as such it was a tight and sharp affair for much of the game. Fulham’s early play looked to utilise the flair of schoolboy winger Patrick Roberts against Chelsea left-back Kevin Wright, but Wright more than held his own as he continued an impressive personal start to the season.
Chelsea struggled to find penetration through the centre with Swift starting a little slowly and Loftus-Cheek well shackled by Lyle Della Verde, but they were just about the more proactive of the two teams and deservedly took the lead with just shy of 20 minutes gone.
It came after Fulham had cleared a Blues corner but failed to push up quickly enough. Muleba picked up the ball deep on the right and returned it back to where it had come from, finding an unmarked Loftus-Cheek ghosting in on the back side. He tucked away well to make it 1-0.
Fulham’s response was positive and they moved their focus to the other flank, where summer signing George Williams looked to get involved. They went closest through Swede Muamer Tankovic, who tried a chip from the edge of the box but it went inches over, much to the relief of Mitchell Beeney, who was sporting a face mask after a recent injury.
Tom Howard forced Fulham goalkeeper Max Oberschmidt into a smart if routine save late in the first half but such moments were few and far between as Chelsea took their lead into the interval with relative comfort.
They would be asked more questions in the second half as Steve Wigley’s boys stepped things up and really began to show some of their quality. Striker Woodrow was quiet throughout though, well shackled by the consistently impressive tandem of Dion Conroy and Jordan Houghton.
Substitutes Connor Hunte and Charlie Colkett added some freshness to the Chelsea team but they found it increasingly tough to play in the opposition half. Forward Reece Mitchell toiled long and hard without reward against much bigger opponents in Josh Passley and Stephen Arthurworrey, and the ball just wouldn’t stick up front.
Tankovic and Della Verde had good long-range tries fall just wide of the mark before Fulham finally got the equaliser their work had justified when Tankovic turned in a low cross from close range. It was his third goal against the Blues, having netted twice at Motspur Park back at the start of 2012.
It looked as if the perfect record may finally have gone but as they’ve showed time and time again, the youngsters at Chelsea do not know when they’re beaten. They grouped themselves together for one last hurrah and found their reward.
Gnahore, who had come into the game more after moving onto the right when Hunte was introduced, had tested Oberschmidt earlier when cutting inside and was the main outlet for attacking threat.
With a minute left of the regulation ninety, he got in behind on the wing before steadying himself for a cross. Blue shirts were outnumbered by defending orange so he opted to drive a low ball into the six yard area, which saw a deflection cause mayhem and a young substitute turn calamitously past his own goalkeeper for 2-1.
Fulham will feel they deserved a point and had a strong case indeed, but it was Chelsea who went home with all the spoils and have 18 points from 18 available at the midway point of the Group 3 campaign.
Big tests are ahead, but the Blues are currently leading the way.
Chelsea: Beeney, Muleba, Houghton (c), Conroy, Wright (Dabo 80), Loftus-Cheek, Starkey (Colkett 72), Swift, Howard (Hunte 59), Gnahore, Mitchell
Subs not Used: Killip, Kandi
Goals: Loftus-Cheek, own goal
Booked: Hunte, Mitchell