A much-changed and generally inexperienced Chelsea Under-18 team went down 1-0 at home to Everton in Barclays Premier Academy League action on Saturday morning in atrocious conditions at Cobham.
A solitary strike from striker George Waring in the game’s opening exchanges secured three points for Kevin Sheedy’s visitors in a game they controlled and rarely appeared threatened in. Heavy rain, high winds and a sticky playing surface (having already moved away from the regular academy pitch) inhibited the quality of football on display and whilst the players largely acquitted themselves well, they were always handicapped by their surroundings.
With many of his more senior Under-18 regulars set to feature against Juventus at Griffin Park tomorrow, Adi Viveash sent out a near-enough backup team which included Nortei Nortey for the first time in an injury-hit season, as well as the more out-of-favour Ismail Seremba. There were also starts for schoolboys Connor Hunte and Ola Aina whist centre-back Isak Ssewankambo captained the side.
Everton rested a couple of faces themselves with an FA Youth Cup Quarter Final date against Norwich City on the horizon but still featured a number of handy players and they were quickest into their stride in the inclement conditions. England Under-16 skipper Ryan Ledson forced Ben Killip into the first save of the morning with a dipping volley which was held well by the Chelsea stopper.
Killip was, however, unable to do anything about Waring’s goal after ten minutes, as the big man did well to get to a cross from the right and sent a first time shot spinning off the slick turf into the botton corner. It would also prove to be a rare moment of attacking flair in a first half bereft of incident and low on quality as both sets of players took time to adapt to the weather.
They were all showing impressive footwork and close control in tight areas but when it came to being decisive in the final third, the struggle to corral the ball and make good of the limited time and space available proved too much to take on.
George Cole, another young Blue who has had his fair share of setbacks this season, proved a particular driving force in midfield and was the first home player to draw Polish goalkeeper Mateusz Taudul into action in the Everton goal but his side foot effort from the edge of the box was tame and straight at his opponent.
Everton had one or two decent moments of their own but the hardest Killip had to work after picking the ball out of his own net was to rescue an over-hit back pass from Ssewankambo and prevent it going in for what would’ve been a second calamitous Under-18 goal in as many league games.
The half time break was a swift one outdoors on a pitch a long walk from the warmth of the changing rooms and when the action resumed, Sam Bangura had replaced Nortey at left-back after a scheduled 45 minutes on his latest comeback.
Apparently spurred on by Viveash’s invitation to move the ball more quickly and with a greater purpose, Chelsea looked sharper at the resumption of action and as the rain relented and the skies cleared, there was a renewed hope of getting back into the game.
It would prove easier said than done though, for Everton displayed competence and a calm authority in their approach and set about extending their lead to an unassailable one. Harry Charsley turned a shot against the crossbar before volleying the rebound over the bar, then Killip did very well to beat out a long shot from Lee Molyneux and respond to the loose ball and prevent Waring from scoring a second.
Viveash’s options from the bench were even more limited than usual with a busy week of action across multiple age groups and so he turned to Under-15 pair Dominic Solanke and Ruben Sammut, the latter making his debut at this level. They added a burst of energy across the pitch but Taudul was still enjoying a quiet if cold day in the Everton goal as his defenders shut out half-chances for Ambrose Gnahore and Chike Kandi.
The Toffees hit the frame of the goal for a second time from long range in the closing moments but there was never a need for them to beat Killip again as they ran out 1-0 victors.
For Chelsea, the short-term sees many bigger fish to fry but the result will prove a setback to their hopes of a top four finish in the Elite Group of Under-18 competition and a national title. They can, however, take positives from this game in that it served to allow many of the fringe squad players some valuable playing time, such as the impressive Cole and Gnahore and the ever improving Jonathan Muleba.
Team: Killip, Aina, Muleba, Ssewankambo ©, Nortey (Bangura 45), Starkey, Cole (Sammut 80), Hunte, Gnahore, Seremba (Solanke 65), Kandi