Chelsea’s Under-18s became the first team to book their place in the league’s top tier to fight for the national academy title after beating Brighton 2-1 at Cobham on a cold Saturday morning.
First half goals by Hubert Adamczyk and Isaac Christie-Davies proved enough to secure all three points for the Blues, and they held out against a spirited Albion fight back during the second half in which Ben White clawed one back to make it a closer contest.
Chelsea coach Joe Edwards retained his 3-4-2-1 formation following a rather effective 8-3 victory at Aston Villa last time out, and he included schoolboys Josh Grant, Trevoh Chalobah, Mason Mount and Iké Ugbo from the start. Grant joined Ali Suljic and Fikayo Tomori in a back three with Chalobah on the right of a nominal four across the pitch ahead of them; Adamczyk took up the left flank with Mukhtar Ali and captain Kyle Scott in the middle.
Mount and Christie-Davies played more advanced roles behind the in-form Ugbo and Chelsea, rampant in front of goal at so many levels in recent weeks, were quickly into their stride and could have been ahead inside three minutes. Christie-Davies’ corner found the stooping head of Grant, who did well to get there in the first place but found Brighton goalkeeper Bailey Vose equal to his effort.
The visitors could play too and came into the match very much in contention to join Chelsea in that elite group from March onwards. James Tilley thrashed a shot towards goal that required goalkeeper Brad Collins to push it onto the post, a signal both of intent and capability.
The hosts settled into a spell where they saw plenty of possession but found diligent red and black shirts in their way, limiting them to somewhat speculative efforts from the periphery. Adamczyk sliced one of those wide but was more fortunate moments later when he managed to guide one on target and saw it slip through the grasp of Vose and into the net to make it 1-0.
As so often happens, it gave Chelsea significantly more confidence and allowed them to further assert their quality over proceedings. A busy midfield rotation between Scott, Christie-Davies and Mount kept things fluid and they began to show their quality. Scott hit the crossbar with an improvised effort from the edge of the box but, where he was denied, Christie-Davies succeeded a minute later when he unleashed a picture-perfect curler from near enough the same spot to find the top corner. It was his second goal again his home-town (and indeed former) team, having scored Chelsea’s only goal of their 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture.
Seeking to make hay and put things to bed before the break, the Blues turned the style on. Ugbo had an effort blocked on the line before Scott, magnificent on the day, dazzled his way through before Vose denied him. He then flicked a ball in behind for Christie-Davies to set up a volley for Mount, but he was just off target in the final moments of a one-sided first half.
Brighton boss Simon Rusk, presumably less than amused with his team’s display, made a double change at the break and his charges also adopted a more aggressive and forceful attitude. It was embodied best by one of his new arrivals as burly forward Jack Rowe-Hurst made life harder for Chelsea and he went close with a header not long after his arrival.
They were able to maintain their threat and then make good on it by halving the deficit close to the hour mark. Centre back White glanced an in swinging free kick into the far corner and suddenly Brighton had all the momentum and looked good to take something back to the South coast with them.
That said, Ugbo should have made things more comfortable seconds later but found his path to goal blocked by a combination of Vose and his defenders. Edwards sought to shore things up with the introduction of Ruben Sammut’s stable hand, whilst Under-15 defender Dujon Sterling was also given time to impress.
Connor Tighe planted a shot straight at Collins when well set but as Albion pushed for an equaliser they left space at the back for Chelsea to exploit. Ugbo again might have done better shortly after having an instinctive prod cleared off the line, and both Scott and Christie-Davies might have shot earlier when given chances to do so.
Josh Courtney’s late left-foot swinger had Chelsea hearts in mouths but Collins held on and it was the superb Tomori who had the final word of the day when he embarked upon a marathon 90-yard break deep into stoppage time, shooting inches wide before the final whistle was blown.
Chelsea: Collins, Grant, Suljic, Ali, Tomori, Scott (c), Chalobah (Sterling), Christie-Davies, Ugbo, Mount (Sammut), Adamczyk (Maddox)
Subs not Used: Thompson
Goals: Adamczyk, Christie-Davies
Brighton: Vose, Courtney, Cox (Barnett) , Hutchinson, Horncastle, White, Pring (Rowe-Hurst), Meyers (Mar-Larusson) , Tilley, Maguire-Drew, Tighe
Subs not Used: Cadman