Chelsea’s Under-18s showed determination and no little spirit in responding to a heavy reverse at Arsenal last time out by claiming all three points from a particularly tricky Saturday morning trip to Leicester City.
The match itself was devoid of talking points and clear cut chances but the Blues edged the contest and came up on the right side of the fine margins, winning 1-0 courtesy of a late winner by Iké Ugbo.
With no Under-21 fixtures until the middle of next month, youth team coach Joe Edwards was able to call upon the experienced heads of Ola Aina, Izzy Brown and Kasey Palmer in a 4-diamond-2 look once again. Brad Collins continued in goal whilst Aina started at left-back in a defensive unit also comprising Fikayo Tomori, George Brady and captain Jake Clarke-Salter.
Ruben Sammut anchored the narrow midfield, with Mukhtar Ali and Isaac Christie-Davies doing the legwork to afford Palmer the freedom to play in the hole behind Brown and Ugbo in attack. Both teams were without players currently away on England international duty, the Foxes missing the mercurial talents of Layton Ndukwu whilst Jay Dasilva was absent for Chelsea.
Edwards’ tactical approach played into the hands of the hosts to some degree as they were able to crowd the middle of the pitch and make it hard for the Blues (in yellow) to break though. They enjoyed plenty of possession without really going anywhere with it and relied on their full backs to provide the necessary width.
Aina did that to good effect for most of the first half and had the first shot on target, albeit one that barely tested the goalkeeper. Further sights of goal proved harder to come by and were often limited to set pieces with both Brown and Tomori heading over when well placed.
A quicker tempo saw a little more space develop but Christie-Davies was unable to steer his effort towards goal and instead it was Leicester who had the game’s best moment just before the break when Danny Rowe found space inside the box but lashed his shot over the crossbar.
Nonetheless, the home team had offered a reminder of their capabilities and began to express themselves more in the second half. Collins still had little to do though and the introduction of Charlie Wakefield for an injured Brown provided pace and flair out wide as Edwards switched to a more familiar 4-2-3-1 look at times.
Palmer had a half chance with twenty minutes remaining but snatched at it, pulling the ball wide of the right post, and he was almost made to pay for it when Collins struggled to deal with Rowe’s wickedly swinging corner as he punched it onto his own crossbar. He recovered sufficiently to deny Elliot Moore from the ensuing delivery but it was enough to give the hosts reason to believe they could press on to win the contest.
They raised their game, looking for the all-important goal, but so did Chelsea and, blessed with the more potent attacking options, it began to tell. Ugbo held the ball up well to give Ali the most clear cut chance of the afternoon but he could only steer his shot inches wide.
His radar proved more accurate minutes later as he drew a save and from the corner, Brady and Clarke-Salter caused enough of a commotion for Ugbo to pick up the loose ball, compose himself and lash home from inside the six yard box.
A frenetic finale almost saw Leicester claim a point they might feel they deserved but Rowe watched as his header ran agonisingly along the face of goal, and it might even have appeared more comfortable for Chelsea had Sammut converted late on the break. He saw his shot saved but it wasn’t to matter and the points and manner of the performance will have been especial pleasing after the disappointment of a week ago.
Chelsea: Collins, Tomori, Brady, Clarke-Salter (c), Aina, Sammut, Christie-Davies, Ali, Palmer (Bolkiah 87), Ugbo, Brown (Wakefield 45)