Chelsea’s Under-18s suffered a first home defeat of the season on Saturday morning as Southampton claimed a 3-1 win at Cobham.
First half strikes by Bevis Mugabi and Dominic Gape sandwiched an unfortunate own goal from Ola Aina and gave the Saints a commanding lead. Chelsea improved in the second half but could only grab a solitary consolation goal through Ambrose Gnahore.
Adi Viveash was deprived of a handful of faces due to injury and lost another during the warmup as Jonathan Muleba pulled up with a hamstring problem. It forced Fankaty Dabo into a start at right-back with Aina joining Dion Conroy at centre-back in front of captain Mitchell Beeney.
Jesse Starkey interrupted international duty with the England Under-18s to turn out in a midfield including Isak Ssewankambo and Charlie Colkett, whilst Tom Howard and Connor Hunte flanked Reece Mitchell up front.
The visitors played extremely well from the off and had a very clear purpose and style in their approach. Quick ball movement up to big striker Sam Gallagher put them into positions to cause problems to the Blues defenders whilst they were relentless and cohesive in their pressing approach in all departments.
Harrison Reed, a midfielder of graft and of guile, went closest in the opening stages with a deftly executed dipper which came down on the wrong side of Beeney’s bar but the Blues goalkeeper would soon be drawn into action when top scorer Ryan Seager worked him into a couple of fantastic full-length stops.
Chelsea had barely been able to work Chris Johns in the Southampton goal as all forays forward were typically cut out before they got anywhere near the defenders, and when Mugabi headed in at the far post from Sam McQueen’s corner to put the visitors 1-0 up shortly before the half hour mark, it was the least they deserved.
Whilst the Saints were being rewarded for their play, the same could not have been said for the unfortunate Beeney. Despite rattling off a string of saves and leading well from the back, affairs conspired against him twice in five minutes towards the end of the first half to put the game well out of reach.
The lead was extended to 2-0 when Aina’s backpass managed to sneak under the foot of his goalkeeper and rolled across the line despite a desperate scramble and whilst the youngsters were still reeling from that hiccup, a loose ball landed kindly for Gallagher, who took it around the Chelsea number one only to be tripped for a penalty.
Beeney was booked before picking Gape’s spot kick out of the net to compound a miserable few moments of action.
Hunte’s neat run and shot forced Johns into his first action late on, but Seager and Gallagher continued to threaten right up to the half time whistle which saw Southampton take a 3-0 lead into the changing rooms.
Viveash withdrew Conroy and Mitchell at the interval with both having also played some minutes for the Under-21s the previous evening, with Gnahore and Chike Kandi on in their stead. There was a renewed desire in the way they began the second half and some fresh impetus in attack but Southampton were clearly content with their lot and sought to simply control the game.
Beeney was back in work in double quick time, keeping Gallagher’s well-hit shot out before making an excellent double save from first Seager and then Gboly Ariyibi.
Chelsea finally got themselves a foothold in the game with an hour played when substitute Gnahore was quickest to react to a rebound from a fine Colkett strike and slammed home to spark hopes of a comeback.
It wasn’t to materialise, although they gave it a good go at times. Hunte went past full-back Tom Leggett with ease before shooting straight at Johns whilst Kandi had two or three openings which promised much but failed to produce, much to the striker’s visible frustration.
Gnahore’s introduction had done much to help the hosts’ cause and he gave schoolboy left-back Isaac Nehemie a much harder time as the second half grew older. He had a chance to double his tally from Howard’s pass but scuffed his shot straight at Johns.
Despite the infectious and mature leadership of Dabo at the back, there were no further goals for the Blues, and late in the day both McQueen and substitute Charlie Higgins might have added to the Southampton tally.
The defeat leaves Chelsea with much work to do in the Elite Under-18 group having taken just five points from five games but attentions now turn to Friday’s FA Youth Cup Quarter Final away to Derby County, when a much-changed team will be seeking yet another spot in the last four.
Chelsea: Beeney (c), Dabo, Aina, Conroy (Gnahore 45), Wright, Ssewankambo, Starkey, Colkett (Solanke 75), Howard, Hunte, Mitchell (Kandi 45)
Southampton: Johns, Leggett, Mugabi, Colmer, Nehemie, Gape (c), Reed, Seager, McQueen (Flannigan), Ariyibi (Higgins), Gallagher (Sims)