Three days removed from another fabled FA Youth Cup comeback, Chelsea’s Under-18s found themselves being brought back to earth somewhat as they went down 2-0 at home to Everton in league action.
The Blues racked up a host of first half chances without being able to make the breakthrough, and were punished for their profligacy close to half time when James Graham scored with a lovely glancing header. Everton went from strength to strength thereafter and were by far the better team the longer the game went on, clinching victory with a sublime second from Harry Charsley.
With no Under-21 fixture on the agenda until Easter weekend, coach Joe Edwards had a fully stocked group of youngsters at his disposal and took the opportunity to field a strong team featuring many of those involved in the sensational turnaround against Spurs.
Brad Collins kept his place in goal whilst Fikayo Tomori was handed the captain’s armband alongside Ali Suljic at centre back, with Charlie Wakefield and Josh Grant at centre back. Mukhtar Ali combined with Kyle Scott deeper in midfield behind a talented trio of Charly Musonda, Jeremie Boga and Tammy Abraham, with Dominic Solanke leading the line in attack.
The visitors threatened first through Charsley but Chelsea answered with a header by Solanke saved by Mateusz Hewelt, and glimpses of openings down the left for both Boga and Musonda came to nothing. Solanke was then presented with a much clearer opportunity to open the scoring but he drove straight at the goalkeeper when well set on the edge of the penalty area.
Boga and Musonda swapped positions to allow the Belgian to operate in a more central position and it almost paid immediate dividends when he released Abraham with a lofted ball, but the 32-goal hitman found Hewelt in unyielding form.
Abraham was off target with a volley shortly after and Solanke denied again by a save, but Everton were coming into the game too, with Kieran Dowell almost exploiting an injury to Tomori by ghosting into space vacated by the stricken defender only to poke wide of the far post.
With half time approaching, the Toffees stole ahead. Liam Walsh dropped a tantalising free kick into the box, where Graham met it with the deftest of flicked headers, sending the ball spinning beyond Collins and into the back of the net.
Charlie Colkett was thrown into the action at the break and looked to make Chelsea tick in his inimitable style but whilst he enjoyed a lot of possession, Everton looked more and more comfortable with every second half minute, although a questionable refereeing performance also frustrated the hosts with regularity.
Collins was called upon to make an extremely impressive one-handed save to prevent Callum Connolly from doubling the Everton lead and he was able to recover quickly to pluck Dowell’s follow up out of the air too. The visitors then wanted a penalty for Grant’s overly grabby defending but the appeals fell on deaf ears, as did Chelsea’s for a suspected trip on Abraham.
More experience arrived in the form of substitutes Jake Clarke-Salter and Ruben Sammut but not even a tactical reshuffle could break down a resolute Everton rearguard. Defending ably from the front, they rarely looked in danger of ceding their lead, although Solanke should have done better with a free header following Colkett’s cross.
The points were sealed in style when Harry Charsley made it 2-0 with a goal fit to grace any standard of football. Darting inside from the left, he escaped from two blue shirts before hitting the corner of the box and whipping an unstoppable curling shot into the far top corner, Collins helpless to stop it.
A valiant late stand saw Abraham squander another good chance on a morning where things simply didn’t go as Chelsea would have liked. They’ll hope for a better performance – and perhaps a little more luck – away to Aston Villa next weekend.
Chelsea: Collins, Wakefield, Suljic, Tomori (c), Grant, Ali (Sammut 67), Abraham, Scott (Colkett 45), Solanke, Boga (Clarke-Salter 67), Musonda
Subs not Used: Thompson, Sterling
Everton: Hewelt, Birch, Robinson, Graham, Bainbridge, Walsh, Donohue, Connolly, Dyson (Baningime 90) Dowell, Charsley
Subs not Used: O’Loughlin, Myers, Bramall, Evans
Goals: Graham, Charsley