A Chelsea Under-18 team packed with Under-16 schoolboys lost 3-0 to West London neighbours Fulham on Friday afternoon, their second home defeat in the space of a week.
Dean O’Halloran gave Steve Wigley’s side the lead midway through the first half, Patrick Roberts doubled it just before the hour, and Aaron Redford came off the bench to round things off in style late in the game. Despite the relative comfort of the scoreline and the manner in which Fulham went about their win, Chelsea were rarely outclassed and can take plenty away from the defeat.
With three matches in as many competitions spread across a five-day span, Adi Viveash’s selection was extremely youthful and displayed the versatility of his group. Brad Collins kept goal behind a back four featuring regular centre-backs Jordan Houghton and George Brady, but full-backs who tend to usually play elsewhere in Ruben Sammut (a midfielder) and Jake Clarke-Salter (a centre-back).
Mukhtar Ali, Isaac Christie-Davies and the fit again Charly Musonda started in midfield, with Jay Dasilva pushed into an advanced role on the left. Charlie Wakefield played on the right, and Tammy Abraham led the line as the centre forward.
Fulham came into this match top of the league and despite the late rearrangement from their Motspur Park training ground to Chelsea’s sunny Cobham, they started well. A fluid attacking foursome featuring the highly rated Roberts all found themselves involved in smart passages of play, but Collins was unworked in the Chelsea goal.
Indeed, it was the hosts who got into the penalty area with greater urgency in the first quarter of an hour, with Dasilva in particular looking menacing on the left. He and Abraham each had half chances to shoot but found their time and space limited, allowing Fulham to clear their lines.
The Whites looked more threatening as they settled into the game and might have had the lead when Roberts put the ball past Collins following good work by Hyndman, but the linesman’s flag denied him with an offside call.
They wouldn’t have to wait for long though, as O’Halloran stretched to reach Jordan Evans’ cross and divert it past Collins into the roof of the net to make it 1-0 before the half hour mark had passed.
Chelsea, however, still looked dangerous, especially through the quick feet and dangerous running from Wakefield and Dasilva out wide. The pair combined to fashion the Blues’ best first half moment, but despite the former delivering a delightful cross, Dasilva couldn’t quite guide his header towards the target at the far post.
Viveash’s half time tweak was to hand a debut to Faiq Bolkiah, a forward from Brunei who joined last month following spells with Arsenal and Reading. He replaced Brady, meaning Dasilva returned to his familiar territory at left-back and Clarke-Salter shuffled inside to pair with Houghton.
Bolkiah injected more of the same attacking flair that Dasilva had already provided, but Chelsea’s attacking quartet weren’t quite clicking in the manner Fulham’s were, and that would be further evidenced by the all-important second goal just shy of the hour. This time it owed everything to Roberts, who moved from right to left with poise and grace, beating two before drilling low and hard past Collins and into the bottom corner.
Two more Chelsea changes followed as they went all-in, introducing Dom Solanke and 14 year-old Trevoh Chalobah – younger brother of Nathaniel – for Clarke-Salter and Musonda. Another tactical reshuffle saw Sammut move into midfield and Ali into defence to accomodate the new arrivals, but Marek Rodak in the away goal was having a quiet day, merely having to watch Solanke slam a free kick over the crossbar.
Roberts and O’Halloran both went in search of additional goals to add to their collection but found Collins in an unforgiving mood as he produced two impressive saves. American midfielder Emmerson Hyndman also drew one or two saves down low, whilst also having a goal disallowed for yet another offside.
Chelsea threw as much as they could into the closing stages and did make Rodak work when the impressive Wakefield tried his luck from outside the box, but their best chance came when Solanke rose to meet Chalobah’s cross only to glance it wide of the post.
It was left to Fulham to have the final word when substitute Redford latched onto Josh Smile’s pass, rounded Collins and tucked home to ensure his team remain leaders of the Southern group of the Category One standings, and on this showing, they do so deservedly. Chelsea, meanwhile, will group ahead of Tuesday’s FA Youth Cup Quarter Final away to Newcastle United.
Chelsea: Collins, Sammut, Houghton (c), Brady (Bolkiah 45), Clarke-Salter (Chalobah 60), Ali, Christie-Davies, Musonda (Solanke 60), Dasilva, Wakefield, Abraham
Subs not Used: Thompson, Ugbo
Fulham: Rodak, Sheckleford, Adebayo, Burgess, Evans, Sambou, Hyndman (Leacock-McLeod 89), Smile, Roberts (Redford 75), Williams, O’Halloran
Subs not Used: Baba, Norman, Donnelly