Chelsea’s Under-18s ended a wonderful 2015 by extending their unbeaten run to twelve matches in all competitions courtesy of a last-minute equaliser away to Brighton on Saturday.
In a tightly-fought and often fractious pre-Christmas fixture, Iké Ugbo gave the Blues the lead from the penalty spot early in the second half only for Brighton to turn things around. Daniel Mandriou struck an equaliser and Jordan Maguire-Drew looked to have won it with a delightful free kick but, deep into stoppage time added on for a number of flash points, Joseph Colley rose highest to head home and secure a share of the spoils.
The match was played just three days after Joe Edwards’ group had successfully navigated their FA Youth Cup Third Round tie against Huddersfield and so several changes were made to the team. One of them was the inclusion of 17 year-old trialist Lewis Walker in attack; the Ilkeston youngster is the son of former England defender Des and has spent the last week down at Cobham.
He began in sprightly fashion, going close twice in the early stages, most notably with a header that flashed just wide of Bailey Vose’s goal. Richard Nartey also saw a header miss the target whilst the Seagulls, largely subdued in the opening gambits, were only able to count Luis Garcia’s panicked effort among their better moments.
Ugbo had the first shot on target, a low one that bobbled and forced Vose into a good low save to his right, but it was Maguire-Drew who then came closest to opening the scoring with a slaloming run into the box before he unleashes a curling effort towards the far corner. It had Jared Thompson beaten but Cole Dasilva was on hand to clear from the line.
Dujon Sterling was introduced at half time and took two minutes to make an impact. Having already scored against Huddersfield and then again in an Under-21 friendly against Brentford this week, he brought an immediate confidence to proceedings and won a penalty when he went down in the box. It looked harsh and more like a slip than a foul in truth, but Ugbo wasn’t about to turn down a chance to net his 14th of the season from the spot. Vose got a hand to it but not enough to prevent Chelsea from taking the lead.
It provoked a swift response from the hosts. Dogged and determined throughout, they upped the tempo and found an equaliser around the hour mark. Quick play down the right saw the ball squared low into the middle, where Mandriou arrived to hit it in stride and plant an assured finish beyond Thompson.
They enjoyed the better of things for a good while thereafter too; Maguire-Drew was especially unlucky not to find a way through in a goalmouth scramble during which he once again saw a clearance from the line keep him out, but he wouldn’t be denied. Having scored a delicious chip in the reverse clash at Cobham earlier in the autumn, he added another special to his copybook with a wonderful free kick into the top corner to make it 2-1 with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Edwards changed things up, going to the 3-4-2-1 formation to get a stronger grip of things in midfield and pushing Mason Mount further forward. His cross found the head of Ugbo only for his effort to go straight at Vose, and Luke McCormick had a potential blockbuster deflect away for a corner with pressure firmly mounting. Maguire-Drew, ever alert on the break, almost put Brighton out of sight with an audacious 45-yard volley that landed wide but reminded Chelsea again of what he could do.
Several skirmishes blighted the latter stages with both teams amped up in search of a result, and the numerous stoppages meant plenty of additional time would be played. Some four minutes deep into them, the Blues managed to pull it out of the bag again. In November away to Fulham, they were able to earn a 2-2 draw through a last-gasp goal from a defender, and the trick was repeated here. Then, it was Richard Nartey with the heroics, but this time Colley found a connection with Mount’s free kick and floated a header into the far corner to end the calendar year on a high.
Brighton: Vose, Davies, Cox, Mandriou, Barker, Meyers, Meekums, Sanders, Maguire-Drew, Byrne, Garcia
Goals: Mandriou, Maguire-Drew
Booked: Byrne, Meyers, Barker, Vose
Chelsea: Thompson, McCormick, Colley, Nartey, C. Dasilva, Sammut, Muheim (Sterling) , Mount, Ugbo, Maddox, Walker (Guehi)
Goals: Ugbo (pen), Colley