Chelsea’s Under-18s turned in an impressive performance that lacked only in goals as their West London derby away to Fulham on Tuesday evening ended 0-0.
Despite giving up plenty in both age and experience against a Fulham team featuring six of their FA Youth Cup team, the young Blues enjoyed much the better of the rare academy game under floodlights and limited their hosts to just one chance of note, whilst racking up plenty themselves.
Having beaten West Brom so emphatically on Saturday and with his options somewhat limited by both injury and international call ups, Adi Viveash made just one change to his starting line-up as Jordan Houghton replaced Mukhtar Ali in central midfield. Youth Cup regulars Ola Aina, Charlie Colkett and Charly Musonda all continued in the starting eleven and would be influential throughout.
Moments of real quality were scarce in the opening half hour as defences reigned supreme, but Chelsea controlled the majority of possession and played most of the game in Fulham’s half. An ambitious try from an optimistic distance by Musonda left Marek Rodak entirely unconcerned before Colkett had him thinking with a thumping volley just wide after a fine touch to create the opening by the in-form Jay Dasilva, once again deployed on the left wing.
Had they scored then and there, they would have deservedly led, but they didn’t and instead very nearly found themselves a goal behind. Fulham moved forward with purpose and speed and built a move that culminated with Aaron Redford bearing down on goal just right of the penalty spot. Fortunately for the Blues, he wasn’t as clinical as he was in scoring at Cobham in the return fixture three weeks ago and thumped his shot both high and wide.
It came during their best spell of the half but whilst George Williams in particular looked lively when making darting runs into the box, Brad Collins didn’t have a save to make.
Neither did Rodak at the other end, but had either Dasilva or Houghton hit the target with shots at the end of very entertaining passages of play, he wouldn’t have had a chance anyway, and when Colkett lashed one off the post from thirty yards out just before the break, he looked relieved not only at being bailed out by his woodwork, but also that the rebound off him bounced wide to ensure the scores remained level at the break.
There were changes aplenty ahead of the restart, with Chelsea making two and then a third five minutes later as toll of two games in four days began to show on some youthful legs. Colkett made wag along with Kyle Scott and Tammy Abraham – who had both worked hard without reward – and a trio of schoolboys got another chance to impress as Ruben Sammut, Faiq Bolkiah and Iké Ugbo featured for a healthy chunk of the match.
Fulham were a much better outfit in the second half after receiving something of a rollicking from manager Steve Wigley, but they still couldn’t do much to break down a Chelsea defence staunchly marshalled by George Brady and Jake Clarke-Salter. Collins’ only save of the entire affair was to bat Noe Baba’s wayward cross over the bar and even that was merely a safety-first act.
Chelsea finished the match with a steely determination to win, led by Houghton (who donned the captain’s armband after Colkett left the field) in the middle and Aina on the right. The latter rampaged the length of the pitch from first to last and led by example, whilst almost clinching all three points with a thumping header from Musonda’s corner that was hacked off the line by Josh Smile.
Intricate approach play in the final moments – notably from Dasilva – looked to give Viveash’s boys one last chance of a win but they found their shooting lanes blocked by an organised Fulham defence and so the points were shared, a result that helps the hosts more than it does Chelsea. The Blues now visit Manchester United this weekend ahead of the FA Youth Cup Semi Final against Arsenal; the first leg of which will be staged at Stamford Bridge on April 10th.
Fulham: Rodak, Sheckleford, Donnelly, Adebayo, Baba, Sambou (Shamsi 82), Hyndman (Walker 45),
Smile, Williams, Leacock-McLeod, Redford (Humphrys 60)
Subs not Used: Norman, Fossey
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Brady, Clarke-Salter, Dabo, Colkett (c) (Sammut 45), Houghton, Scott (Bolkiah 45), Musonda, Dasilva, Abraham (Ugbo 50)
Subs not Used: Thompson, Ali