Chelsea’s Under-18s shared an entertaining five-goal affair with Bolton Wanderers on Saturday morning but unfortunately fell to a 3-2 defeat in snowy conditions at Cobham.
Jesse Starkey had given the Blues a first half lead which was cancelled out by a controversial Tom Walker penalty. Bolton went ahead in the second half but were pegged back by Ambrose Gnahore’s strike before Walker clinched the points late on.
Manager Adi Viveash was able to call upon some more familiar faces after last week’s inexperienced selection against Everton but internationals and injuries still depleted his player pool.
Dion Conroy returned to partner Isak Ssewankambo at the back, with captain John Swift part of a midfield also featuring Starkey and George Cole. Full-back Fankaty Dabo was pressed into action in attack, joining Connor Hunte in flanking Chike Kandi.
As the snow fell relentlessly on the soggy playing surface, questions might have been asked as to how long the game would last but the ball moved freely and the players were able to express themselves comfortably.
The away team had the first chance at goal when Saul Hamer somehow contrived to miss from six yards out moments after goalkeeper Ben Killip had done well to tidy up after a loose ball fell kindly for the forward.
Chelsea responded through Kandi, who linked well with Cole before sending a shot spinning just wide of the post.
Both outfits looked lively in attack but lacked a little cutting edge in the opening exchanges. Swift and Starkey both struck long shots straight at the keeper, whilst Walker and Tom Youngs had half chances go begging for Wanderers.
Viveash was forced into an early change when Hunte appeared to hurt himself stretching to apply the finish to an excellent move. He was replaced by Gnahore.
The opening goal arrived roughly around the half hour mark and it did so with Bolton feeling rather aggrieved. Dabo, who had been fouled off the ball moments earlier, sought retribution and dispossessed his man with a strong but acceptable tackle.
With the man in white laying prone, the Blues moved the ball quickly and Starkey was able to bend one home from the edge of the box for 1-0.
Fast-forward five minutes though, and the two teams swapped roles as Bolton equalised in questionable fashion. Youngs appeared to have shoved Ssewankambo to the ground in the corner of the pitch, but was allowed to come away with the ball and advance into the box.
His cross was intended for a team-mate who went down under the attentions of Kevin Wright, and Walker buried the resulting spot kick into the roof of the net.
It was a fair scoreline heading into the interval based on the balance of play but Conroy might have given Chelsea a second lead shortly before the whistle when he saw a far post header saved and the rebound strike the post.
The snow disappeared as the two teams resumed playing, but there was no shortage of passion or intensity on show. It increased as the game went on and three Bolton players found themselves issued with a yellow card (as did Starkey for Chelsea) whilst things threatened to boil over into unsavoury scenes for two arguing Trotters colleagues.
Goalmouth action was scarcer to begin with, with Swift’s low shot the only notable effort before the hour mark, but it soon picked up and Bolton were ahead again midway through the second period.
They had been pushing to seize the advantage for a short while before and were rewarded with a powerful low strike from their central midfielder which ripped past a helpless Killip and into the back of the net.
Chelsea’s response was quick and effective as they were once again on terms within five minutes. A cross from substitute Nortei Nortey skidded all the way through to fellow replacement Gnahore at the far post, and made up for the disappointment of seeing a header hit the bar earlier in the half by steering a composed
shot past the goalie.
The points were now entirely up for grabs and both teams knew it. Swift had a header cleared off the line whilst Starkey’s free kick for a cynical foul on Dabo was palmed away from the top corner.
At the other end a mistake by Conroy allowed Hamer to sprint clear, but before the big forward could shoot he was accosted by Ssewankambo, who saved the day with an excellent tackle.
Conroy then went close with a header as Chelsea turned the screw and the Blues looked the likelier winner, which will inevitably make Bolton’s late winner an even bitter pill to swallow.
Youngs did well on the left side of the box to hold up play before playing a cheeky back heel to the blind side. Walker came steaming up around him to meet it and slammed a finish past Killip to ensure all three points went north.
Cole, Swift, Kandi and Dabo were all excellent for a home side which definitely deserved to take something away from the game, but they’ll have a chance to make amends on Tuesday when the two reconvene in Lancashire for the return league fixture, weather permitting.
Chelsea: Killip, Muleba (Nortey 67), Ssewankambo, Conroy, Wright, Starkey, Swift (c), Cole, Hunte (Gnahore 25), Dabo, Kandi
Subs not Used: Howard, Bangura, Seremba
Goals: Starkey, Gnahore