Chelsea’s Under-18s completed an unbeaten three-match week on Saturday with a 1-1 draw away to Manchester United.
The Blues dominated the contest and should really have returned south with all three points but failed to take a number of chances following Jordan Houghton’s third minute opener, but they were unable to add to their tally and Joe Riley’s smart finish after an hour meant the hosts claimed a share of the spoils.
With fine performances in a victory over West Brom last Saturday and a draw at Fulham in midweek already in the bag, coach Adi Viveash made few changes to a team in good form. The back five of Brad Collins, Ola Aina, George Brady, Jake Clarke-Salter and Fankaty Dabo remained untouched once again, and Houghton was able to continue in midfield with captain Charlie Colkett.
Mukhtar Ali replaced Kyle Scott in the number ten role between Jay Dasilva and Charly Musonda, who manned the flanks again, whilst the absences of Dominic Solanke on international duty and Tammy Abraham through injury meant Reece Mitchell started in the number nine role up front.
Man Utd were missing a number of key players, none moreso than talented young striker James Wilson, and they rarely looked capable of taking the match to Chelsea as a contest. They struggled to deal with their athleticism and their speed of movement throughout and found themselves a goal behind with a little more than two minutes on the clock. A long ball into the home penalty area was only partially cleared to Houghton, who was able to take a touch to set himself before clipping an unstoppable shot into the bottom left hand corner from 25 yards out, leaving goalkeeper Joel Castro Pereira with no chance whatsoever.
It would turn out to be Chelsea’s only goal of the game but it really shouldn’t have been. Five minutes later Dasilva found himself one on one with Pereira and with all the time in the world to find a finish, but having opted for power over placement he watched as his effort flew agonisingly over the crossbar. The England Under-17 international has been in fantastic form of late in an advanced role on the left side and turned in another impressive ninety minutes here, but found his end product lacking on this occasion.
Musonda sent a free kick spinning over the crossbar midway through a first half played almost entirely in the Manchester United half, with advances from the Red Devils few and far between. Their brightest moment came when Josh Harrop did well to the right of the area but failed to pick out Ashley Fletcher with his cutback; the striker doing his best to make contact but was only able to deflect the ball out of play well wide of the target.
Houghton, bossing the midfield with imperious quality, might have doubled his personal tally after galloping into the area to meet Musonda’s touch back following a cross from the left, but Pereira reacted both quickly and bravely to smother the ball in the six yard box, and the Swiss stopper was on hand twice more before the half time whistle to keep Dasilva and Mitchell out at the near post with strong reflexes to beat away near-post tries.
Viveash made one substitution before the restart, resting Musonda and giving Chike Kandi a first appearance since featuring for both Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City as a trialist in recent weeks. His arrival meant Mitchell slotted into a role on the right, and Chelsea were able to simply pick up where they left off as within five minutes of second half action Brady saw a header cleared off the line by Ben Barner and Aina watched a low left-footed effort from the edge of the box strike the foot of the post.
Ambrose Gnahore, who himself has also been away on trial at Ipswich Town of late, returned to the fold as Mitchell was replaced after 55 minutes; a decision taken in reaction to unexpected extended duty the previous night as the young forward was forced into playing 40 minutes in relief of the injured Jeremie Boga for Dermot Drummy’s Under-21s. He would have his chance to seal the points, but not before Colkett and Dasilva linked up well in a move that ended with the former screwing a shot wide from close range.
Having not had a save to make, it was a case of footballing inevitability that Collins’ first action of any note was to pick the ball out of his net as Riley levelled the scores on the hour mark. Barber’s punt into the Chelsea box from wide on the left was ambitious without aiming for anyone in particular, but the bounce of the ball proved tricky for Clarke-Salter to deal with and he could only partially clear the ball to the United number seven, who produced a lovely guided finish into the far corner.
In response, Kandi got the better of Callum Evans down the left and picked out his fellow substitute Gnahore unmarked in the box, but whilst he was blessed with time and space, he shot straight at Pereira. He tried to make amends with a cavalier run down the right and into the box moments later; the ball eventually falling to the third and final fresh face from the bench in Ruben Sammut, but he fired over from the edge of the box.
United were still only a threat in fits and starts, with captain Ryan McConnell hooking over from Harrop’s deep free kick and Matthew Willock displaying a lack of goalscoring confidence by dragging a shot wide after good play once more by Harrop, but Chelsea had the last chance when Brady headed wide following Colkett’s deep inswinging set-piece delivery.
Although it lacked the result, the performance pleased Viveash, who now has a week in which to prepare his young team ahead of the visit of an improving Bolton Wanderers to Cobham next Saturday.
Manchester United: J.Pereira, Evans, McConnell (c), Ioannou, Barber, Riley (Croskery 77), Goss, Willock, Thompson, Harrop, Fletcher
Subs not Used: Borthwick-Jackson, Henderson, Rashford, Tuanzebe
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Brady, Clarke-Salter (Sammut 65), Dabo, Colkett (c), Houghton, Ali, Musonda (Kandi 45), Dasilva, Mitchell (Gnahore 55)
Subs not Used: Thompson, Scott