Chelsea’s youngest Under-18 team of the season staged a late comeback on Saturday morning to earn a point in a 2-2 draw against London rivals Arsenal at Cobham.
No fewer than nine schoolboys featured for a Blues team which had found itself trailing 2-0 midway through the second half after goals from Renny Smith and Stephy Mavididi, but they finished strong. Jake Clarke-Salter’s first youth team goal reduced the arrears before a Tammy Abraham penalty secured a share of the spoils.
With an FA Youth Cup trip to Cardiff scheduled for this coming Tuesday, the academy staff took the decision not to risk anyone set for involvement and instead give further opportunities to a generation of burgeoning talent. Brad Collins continued as the team’s regular goalkeeper behind a back four which also included the familiar face of George Brady alongside Under-16s Fikayo Tomori, Clarke-Salter and Jay Dasilva.
Three more made up the midfield as Ruben Sammut, Mukhtar Ali and Isaac Christie-Davies were all included from the off, and Abraham in attack made it seven schoolboy starters, flanked by experience in captain Kasey Palmer on the right and Reece Mitchell on the left. With so many of his own group involved, Joe Edwards took charge of the team.
Arsenal included three schoolboys of their own from the start in Mavididi, George Dobson and Tyrell Robinson, but found it a struggle to get going in the early stages. The exceptionally windy conditions hardly favoured either team but it was Chelsea who were able to go about their business with greater purpose as Palmer, Abraham and Ali all forced goalkeeper Ryan Huddart into action.
Robinson was the Gunners’ most viable attacking outlet in the first half; his pace and trickery causing problems for the Blues’ defence with increasing regularity. Right-back Tomori more than held his own in their individual battle but was forced off with an injury before the break, meaning another chance at this level for Charlie Wakefield, following his debut against Wolves on Tuesday.
A scoreless first half belied the explosion of action which was to come in the second, with Chelsea signalling their attacking intent by bringing on a forward in Chike Kandi for a midfielder in Christie-Davies. He lined up on the right with Abraham retaining his spot leading the line, and it was the latter who went as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock when he flashed a shot into the side netting following a fine run out from the back by Wakefield.
The game’s opening goal owed everything to an unfortunate individual error by Clarke-Salter. A loose pass out of defence landed at the feet of midfielder Smith, and the former Chelsea junior took full advantage of the gift by deftly chipping the ball over Collins to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead.
Chelsea’s response was to camp in the Arsenal half for long spells, seeking a way to break down a defensive unit which looked particularly organised and well-drilled. Sammut’s well-struck shot was blocked bravely by George Dobson whilst a number of situations might have come to greater fruition had one fewer touch been taken by a blue shirt before the ball was moved.
Arsenal retained the capacity to threaten on the break and whilst Smith and latterly Dobson had chances to extend the advantage, Mavididi did so with just under twenty minutes to play. He found himself clear in behind after another clearance from the back and did well to settle the ball in time to round Collins and tuck away for 2-0.
Edwards’ boys needed a spark if they were going to make a game of it, and they found it in midfielder Kyle Scott. Coming from the bench in between the two Arsenal goals, he immediately took the game on his shoulders and sought responsibility for getting his team back in the match. He might’ve had a goal for himself when making a fantastic run to meet Clarke-Salter’s searching pass but just lacked the legs to get on the end of it, but the same combination would find a reward moments later.
This time Scott turned provider, whipping in a superb corner to the near post area where Clarke-Salter arrived with perfect timing to thump a header past Huddart and reduce the deficit to just one. With Arsenal legs tiring and affected by injury – both Uade and Mugabo limped off during the second half – Chelsea spirits were lifted by the very realistic possibility of taking something away from the affair.
An eye-catching move five minutes from time saw Ali feed Abraham, who laid it off for Scott to volley a wonderful pass out to Dasilva. His cross hung high in the air as Abraham looked to get on the end of it, but the tall forward had apparently been impeded by an Arsenal defender and a penalty was awarded by the referee. It looked to be a rather soft decision, but Abraham nonetheless stepped up and converted with authority to make it 2-2.
A tense spell in stoppage time threatened to provide one final opening for either Kandi or Abraham but the spoils would end up shared, and whilst it represented a fourth consecutive winless outing for Chelsea, the context of the day made it a very well-received result.
Chelsea: Collins, Tomori (Wakefield), Brady, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Sammut, Ali, Christie-Davies (Kandi), Palmer (c) (Scott), Mitchell, Abraham
Subs not Used: Thompson, Bolkiah
Arsenal: Huddart, Siemann (c), Wright, Dobson, Uade (Johnson), Mugabo (Bola), Jebb, Smith, Robinson, Dawkins, Mavididi
Subs not Used: Vickers