Chelsea’s Under-18s remain perfect so far this season as they made it four wins from four in a hard- fought 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Cobham.
First half strikes from John Swift and Jesse Starkey had the Blues in the ascendancy and a third midway through the second period from Reece Mitchell looked to have put the result beyond doubt.
Kieran Woodley’s consolation effort gave the visitors hope and they pushed on late, but Mitchell Beeney kept out a stoppage-time penalty to retain the impressive margin of victory.
Following last weekend’s win over Liverpool, Adi Viveash made but few changes. Kevin Wright replaced Adam Nditi at left-back, whilst Connor Hunte started with Andreas Christensen out, meaning a host of players playing in a different position to that from seven days ago.
A feature of the early going was Palace’a organisation and pressing. They pushed up high when the defence had the ball but more importantly they also shackled the midfield, meaning Beeney was forced to hold onto the ball or attempt a riskier pass.
Such moments played on the young stopper’s mind in the first half and there was more than one occasion where it looked like it might cost a goal, but one way or another Chelsea dealt with the danger.
Whilst working out their defensive kinks, the hosts took the lead after a little more than fifteen minutes. A simple move saw Wright cross and Swift arrive unmarked to nod into the bottom corner with relative ease for 1-0.
The lead was doubled in quick-fire fashion, and it came from the penalty spot. Mitchell continued his fine recent form by tormenting the opposition defence and when he rolled his man in the box, the ensuing trip was a clear foul which the visitors didn’t bother protesting against.
Starkey stuck the penalty away to offer some daylight and relative comfort.
Palace, for their effective early discipline, had struggled to carve out many chances of their own but did see one effort hit the woodwork as Sullay Kaikai’s free kick glanced off the base of the post.
They will also have felt aggrieved not to have been awarded a spot kick of their own when Wright pulled back Will Johnson-Cole but the linesman nearest the play surprisingly deemed the offence to have taken place outside of the line. Their discontent with the officials would grow stronger the longer the game went on.
Viveash replaced Wright at the break to afford 45 minutes to Ambrose Gnahore and the new man was immediately under pressure as Gary Issott’s charges came out after the break determined to get back into the game.
Javen Palmer’s shot hit the side netting before Beeney was asked to make his first serious save by former Chelsea team-mate Kiran Khinda-John. When Sam Toms rattled the crossbar, the hosts themselves looked shaken.
However, Mitchell’s opportunism put the result beyond doubt midway though the second half. He pounced on a short back pass and had the time to round the goalkeeper and set his feet before making it 3-0.
The extended lead didn’t last for long though, as substitute Woodley beat a man before drilling in off the post to set up a tense finale.
Chelsea tried to retain the ball and play to their tempo but they appeared too cautious and allowed Palace to push higher and higher. Kaikai’s free kick was easily saved and Woodley was denied a second with a clearance from the goalmouth area.
In stoppage time they were given the match’s second penalty when Beeney wiped out an opponent in the air, but the big man made amends by saving Kaikai’s effort to keep the final score 3-1.
With Fulham also continuing their perfect start, the stage is one step closer to being set for a classic in two weeks time as the West London neighbours clash at Cobham for Group 3 supremacy.
Chelsea: Beeney, Dabo, Muleba, Conroy, Wright (Gnahore 45), Houghton, Swift (c) (Ssewankambo 90), Starkey, Howard, Hunte (Kandi 60), Mitchell
Sub not Used: Killip
Goals: Swift, Starkey pen, Mitchell
Booked: Dabo, Swift