Chelsea’s hopes of winning the Barclays Under-18 Premier League title this season took a hefty blow on Saturday morning as they fell to a 3-1 defeat at home to Middlesbrough.
A brace either side of half time from Junior Mondal with an Alex Pattison effort sandwiched in between kept Boro on course to compete for honours themselves whilst Tammy Abraham’s 33rd goal of the season proved little more than a consolation for a Blues team that has now suffered back to back league reverses at home.
With the international break now over and with an Under-21 match on the docket for Monday, Joe Edwards was unable to call upon quite as many resources as he did against Everton last time out but nonetheless fielded a formidable-looking side. Brad Collins continued in goal with Fikayo Tomori and Ali Suljic at the heart of a back four also featuring full back Charlie Wakefield and Josh Grant.
Ruben Sammut skippered the team alongside the familiar face of Mukhtar Ali in the midfield engine room, with Kyle Scott as the number ten in between Isaac Christie-Davies and Iké Ugbo, all together comprising a narrow trio behind Abraham in attack.
They were almost ahead inside five minutes too, when Scott was presented with time and space towards the left of the penalty spot, but he couldn’t get enough direction on his shot with his weaker foot and allowed Tom Dawson to make his first save of the game.
Boro quickly inserted themselves into the reckoning in response when Harry Chapman produced good work down the left before playing in Pattison, who saw his effort rattle the frame of the goal from eight yards out. The first-year scholar has enjoyed a prolific season with eleven goals to his name and he might have added another shortly after were it not for the timely intervention of Grant.
It was Boro who continued to enjoy the better of the game and they also threatened from set pieces, with defender Deal Fry volleying dangerously across the face of goal from a position towards the right of goal. Chelsea, meanwhile, looked to probe their way through patiently as is their preference but found a well-drilled Middlesbrough resistance hard to crack. Abraham had a half-chance come to nothing whilst Scott and Christie-Davies were both close to unlocking the door without quite doing enough to succeed.
Boro grabbed a deserved 1-0 lead ten minutes before the break when Mondal drilled a free kick low and hard into the bottom corner from just over thirty yards out. It looked a particularly ambitious effort to take on but it found a way through to beat a clearly surprised Collins in the Chelsea goal.
It might have been more before half time as well, with Chapman proving a consistently potent threat on the left. He found Pattison again with Tomori this time getting in the way of a certain goal, before the newly-capped England Under-18 man took it upon himself to go past Suljic before running out of room to finish, only finding the side netting.
Chelsea were better after the restart with two clear chances to get back on terms emerging in the early stages of second half action. Abraham’s turn and shot cleared the top corner by a few feet, and Ali’s teasing free kick to the near post caused confusion and almost resulted in an own goal, instead squirting away for a corner.
At the other end, Chapman was guilty of missing a great opportunity having shown great ingenuity to create it in the first place, deftly flicking the ball over Suljic to work space for a shot, only to then slice it well wide of goal.
The more the hosts pushed forward, the more they were vulnerable to the counter attack, and Middlesbrough duly took full advantage with two incisive moves resulting in goals in quick succession to end the game as a contest. The first came as the result of a well constructed team move as Matty Elsdon strode out from the back to feet Callum Johnson. He advanced to the edge of the box before laying it off to Pattison, and this time he got everything right, keeping his head over the ball to strike it low and hard into the far corner via the foot of the post.
Two gave way to three just as quickly, but this time it was all Chapman’s doing. Collecting the ball in Chelsea territory, he took off into the vast green expanses ahead of him and motored clear before allowing Mondal to take the shot; he clipped a lovely effort over Collins to give his team an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Chelsea grabbed a consolation fifteen minutes from time when Grant – showing a dogged determination to resurrect something for his team – was tripped in the box, allowing Abraham to slot home from the spot to extend his lead at the top of the league goalscoring charts (with 22 to his name now) but other than another potential own goal, Dawson remained rather unworried in the Boro goal as the clock ticked down.
Instead, the visitors should have taken a more handsome scoreline away with them but Johnson and latterly substitute Jordan Jowers were guilty of poor finishes at the death. It will be remembered as little more than an afterthought on a fine morning’s work for Middlesbrough as they look good to be in the title picture, whilst Chelsea may now adjust to focusing primarily on FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League honours, the latter being the first to be decided in Switzerland next weekend.
Chelsea: Collins, Wakefield (Bolkiah 84), Suljic, Tomori, Grant, Sammut (c), Christie-Davies (Adamczyk 74), Ali, Abraham, Scott (C. Dasilva 62), Ugbo
Subs not Used: Baxter, Nartey
Booked: Scott, Grant
Middlesbrough: Dawson, Helm, McGinley, Wheatley, Elsdon, Fry, Johnson, Pattison, Hetherington (Jowers 89), Chapman, Mondal (Renton 90)
Subs not Used: Hemmings, McGoldrick, Plews
Goals: Mondal (2), Pattison
Booked: Helm, Wheatley