Chelsea upset the Under-18 league form book and ended a run of six straight league defeats on Saturday morning with a 1-0 win over table-topping Fulham.
A first goal at this level for schoolboy Dominic Solanke ensured a much-changed Blues side took all three points for the first time in two months, and they were fair value for the victory.
Joe Edwards took charge of the team in Adi Viveash’s stead and was able to call on the services of Dion Conroy, Charlie Colkett and Connor Hunte; all substitutes who saw action the previous night against Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup.
Fankaty Dabo played out of position at left-back whilst there were also starts for Isak Ssewankambo, Jesse Starkey, Kasey Palmer and George Cole.
The season’s fourth meeting of these two West London neighbours (who also share training grounds in close proximity, no less) was perhaps cagier and slower than many would have expected. Nonetheless, Palmer provided an early spark on his home debut with a driving run and shot which careered back off the crossbar.
Chances were at a premium throughout the game and neither goalkeeper truly had very much to do all morning. Chelsea’s Ben Killip was alert early on to tackle George Williams on the edge of his box but despite the presence of the prolific Moussa Dembele in Fulham white, he had a quiet time of things.
With the game’s most potent attacking threats well shackled – Dembele by Ssewankambo, Hunte by Noe Baba, and Patrick Roberts by the excellent Dabo – the action degenerated into exchanges of possession in midfield. The approach play was neat and tidy but lacked penetration on both sides.
Towards the end of the first half, Fulham’s American midfielder Emmerson Hyndman had two excellent opportunities to put the visitors ahead, but having sent the first of his shots high over the crossbar, he saw a goalbound strike wonderfully blocked by Ssewankambo to ensure the score remained 0-0 at half time.
Things opened up a bit more after the break, although it was Fulham who fashioned the better moments. Dembele missed a gilt-edged opportunity midway through a quiet second half when he shot wide from close range, before Killip then saved from Lyle Della Verde and wagged Hyndman’s free kick sail over.
Substitutions on both sides sought to seize the initiative, and Edwards’ introductions of Nortei Nortey, Ambrose Gnahore and Tom Howard did just that. Howard’s cool and composed use of the ball immediately meshed well with Colkett, who came on stronger late on, whilst Gnahore’s directness provided impetus.
Both were involved in Chelsea’s best moment of the day ten minutes from time when Howard released Solanke with an inch-perfect pass, but the young forward, perhaps over-thinking the situation, didn’t get a shot away despite having the goal at his mercy. When the ball eventually came back around, Gnahore put his effort wide.
It wasn’t to matter though, as minutes from time many of the same players were involved in a patient move which concluded with Gnahore’s shot deflecting into the path of Solanke, who swept home from close range to seal a long overdue win for the Under-18s.
Chelsea: Killip, Muleba, Ssewankambo, Conroy (Nortei 65), Dabo, Starkey, Palmer, Colkett, Cole (Howard 75), Hunte (Gnahore 70), Solanke