Chelsea’s Under-18s kicked off their 2014-15 campaign with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Southampton at Cobham in a performance that bore all of the hallmarks of many recent comeback wins at this level.
Joe Edwards’ young Blues found themselves trailing by two goals inside the opening quarter of an hour but responded well to draw level as Tammy Abraham and Kasey Palmer struck their first goals of the new season. Saints went back ahead shortly after through a lovely Josh Sims effort but it merely set the table for a late Chelsea rally and it came first through Abraham doubling his tally five minutes from time and then Josh Grant; the schoolboy defender heading home to clinch the points at the death.
Edwards, making his official debut in charge of the youth team following Adi Viveash’s ascent to the Under-21 ranks, named a starting team stronger than any group he had been able to work with during pre-season. It featured ten Englishmen and included Dominic Solanke, Charly Musonda, Jay Dasilva and Kasey Palmer, each of whom spent most of July making a considerable impression on a bigger stage.
With such an impressive line-up it came as something of a surprise therefore to see Southampton race out to a 2-0 lead inside fifteen minutes. Chris Regis had already put the hosts on notice when his close-range try came back off the crossbar but Marcus Barnes was less forgiving moments later when he beat Jake Clarke-Salter for pace and rifled low past Brad Collins into the bottom corner.
Barnes, who spent a month on trial at Cobham last year, then doubled his tally and his team’s advantage with an emphatic penalty following Fikayo Tomori’s unfortunate trip on Dan Demkiv. Slow starts have been something of a theme for Chelsea’s younger age groups since returning from their holidays and whilst the young scholars faced a tough ask to get back into the game they weren’t about to go without a fight and began to fashion chances of their own.
Palmer, Musonda and Christie-Davies each fired tamely at Harry Isted in the Saints goal before Solanke was afforded a clear sight of goal, but last season’s twenty-goal hitman was less than convincing with a poor effort from twelve yards out.
A second penalty of the morning offered Chelsea a foothold in proceedings as Abraham was fouled when lining up a shot and after a brief fracas he dusted himself off to confidently dispatch the ball into the bottom corner and halve the deficit.
The comeback would owe something to lady luck too, for the visitors found themselves denied once more by the woodwork before half time. Richard Bakary’s inventive lob freed Barnes for a hat-trick moment but his volley rebounded off the post and Regis was unable to beat Collins from the follow-up.
Chelsea might have been on terms before the interval were it not for a truly outstanding low save by Isted to keep Solanke at bay and a wild finish by Musonda at the end of a sumptuous move but they didn’t have long to wait in the second half to eventually make it 2-2. Palmer picked the ball up some thirty yards from goal and proceeded to slalom his way through red and white shirts before flicking an impudent finish beyond the reaches of Isted.
Predictably though, they were almost immediately behind again. England Under-17 starlet Sims was allowed to cut in from the right and size up a shot which he made mistake with, rattling the ball into the bottom corner from some way out. It was enough for Edwards to introduce Izzy Brown from the bench in his return from injury, giving him half an hour of football with a game to be won.
To their enduring credit, the response was impressive from Chelsea. They turned the screw and forced their opponents deeper and deeper in their search of a third goal. Musonda proved central to dictating affairs and Abraham’s muscular endeavour allowed him to be a nuisance throughout.
Isted managed to better his first half save from Solanke by extending himself to his fullest capacity in order to tip a header from the same player wide with time running out but having played so well it was the Saints’ stopper who played a significant role in the game’s sixth goal.
Clarke-Salter sent a searching pass in behind which Abraham latched onto, and he was able to steer the ball into an unguarded net with Isted wildly rushing off his line to little effect. Five minutes remained but the script had an inevitable and unavoidable finale which arrived two minutes later as Ali’s corner caused mayhem; Solanke headed back into a central area and Grant – the youngest player on the pitch – nodded emphatically into the top corner to round off a fine overall start to what will undoubtedly be another spectacular year of youth football at Chelsea.
Chelsea: Collins, Tomori (Grant), Brady, Clarke-Salter (c), J. Dasilva, Sammut, Palmer (Ali) , Christie-Davies (Brown), Musonda, Abraham, Solanke
Subs not Used: Thompson, Scott
Goals: Abraham 30 pen, 85, Palmer 49, Grant 87
Southampton: Isted, Bakary, Cook, Clinton, Debayo, Little, Regis, Slattery (Jones), Sims, Demkiv (Willard) , Barnes (Irvine)
Goals: Barnes 10, 15 pen, Sims 58