Chelsea’s Under -18s suffered a rare defeat on Saturday morning as they succumbed to a much superior West Ham side 2-0 away from home..
Early first half goals from Kieran Bywater and Jordan Brown did the damage on a bog of a pitch but despite the conditions, Chelsea never got going and struggled to play their game, perhaps playing as poorly as they have this season.
Adi Viveash’s selection was a strong one but still found room for three schoolboys from the start, no doubt due to the excellent display no fewer than seven of them put in at Cobham in the return fixture back in September. Brad Collins continued on goal with a back four made up of the returning Isak Ssewankambo, George Brady, Dion Conroy and Ola Aina, who again started at left back.
Charlie Colkett donned the captain’s armband in midfield alongside young Isaac Christie-Davies, with Charly Musonda afforded the playmaker’s role ahead of them. Kasey Palmer took up duties on the left, Tammy Abraham did the same on the right, and Dominic Solanke played through the middle.
West Ham have been amongst the leading Under-18 teams in the country throughout 2013-14, coming into the game in second place in the standings, and they soon began to show why. Assertive throughout and keen to seize the advantage, they were ahead inside a quarter of an hour when Brown held the ball up well before feeding Bywater, who showed why he leads the Hammers’ goalscoring charts with a confident finish past the reaches of Collins.
Chelsea could only muster a brief flurry of almost-moments by way of response. Musonda flicked a free kick wide and Abraham did the same with a header before Musonda again went close with a set piece, this time asking Sam Howes to palm the ball to safety.
The lead was doubled not long after and it would sum up Chelsea’s day quite nicely when all had been said and done. Brown this time turned goalscorer, taking advantage of some less than stellar defending and then reaping the benefits of a slight Collins miscue in attempting to make the save.
Viveash’s boys found themselves facing an uphill struggle before they had ever found their rhythm or any semblance of form, and the demands of the task at hand simply got the better of them. Possession proved an ambitious ask as they struggled to keep the ball in the face of a a claret and blue swarm, energised by a two-goal lead, and the disconnect in midfield meant Solanke especially was left isolated in attack.
The highlight – or perhaps lowlight – of the rest of the first half came courtesy of the referee, who baffled players, spectators and coaching staff alike with a succession of curious decisions. It saw Viveash issue some stern words in his direction en route to the dressing rooms at half time, though it did little to prevent them continuing thereafter.
Palmer started the second half in a more central role with Musonda out on the left instead and, for a while, it looked like it might help Chelsea get back in the game, but they soon faced the same frustrations and West Ham bossed most of the game. One move in particular was both slick and incisive, and would have made for a fantastic team goal were it not for the wayward finishing touch from Brown.
Viveash dipped into his reserves from the bench and introduced Jordan Houghton and Kevin Wright – another retuning from recent injury – with Ssewankambo and Christie-Davies making way. It meant a switch back to the right for Aina, who was probably Chelsea’s most effective player, but the overall flow of the game was barely affected by the changes.
Having had no success with their primary approach, the visitors switched things up by adopting a more direct approach, seeking to use the height of Solanke, Abraham and more latterly a third substitute in Chike Kandi to at least establish a territorial advantage from which they could then build. It had one or two moments where it might have worked, particularly when Solanke got in behind from a searching Collins punt, but for the most part it simply saw ball after ball fly far too deep and out of touch.
All the while West Ham were diligently working to ensure they went home with all three points and occasionally threatened to extend the lead. Manny Onariase headed over from a corner whilst Brown forced Collins into a good save low to his left, and they carried the impression that had they needed to, they could have stepped things up and found another goal.
Chelsea though, despite being in that position, couldn’t muster much of anything. Solanke and Musonda were presented with opportunities to shoot from the edge of the box but each opted to attempt an extra touch, one which saw their efforts blocked, before Kandi went closest of all by getting onto a hopeful launched pass and crashing a shot against the angle of post and crossbar.
The home team were deserved winners, though Chelsea certainly didn’t do themselves justice by playing well below their best. That can (and often does) happen in developmental football however, and not only can lessons be learned from this match, they can be applied as early as next weekend, when they have a chance to bounce back away to Southampton.
Chelsea: Collins, Ssewankambo (Wright) , Brady, Conroy, Aina, Colkett (c), Christie-Davies (Houghton), Musonda, Palmer (Kandi) , Abraham, Solanke
Subs not Used: Thompson, Mitchell