Chelsea completed their Under-18 fixtures for the first part of the season with a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Cobham on Saturday morning.
The Blues, who now advance into an eight-team group featuring Middlesbrough, Manchester United, Everton and four more to be decided in order to determine a national champion, fell behind to a Ryan Loft penalty but responded well. Jeremie Boga’s return from injury sparked a second-half turnaround in which the Frenchman equalised with an exquisite free kick before Iké Ugbo secured the three points with a well-taken late goal.
With these two teams squaring off in FA Youth Cup action later this coming week, both managers opted to field teams younger than the full-strength outfits likely to be in use at White Hart Lane. Joe Edwards handed a first Under-18 start to 15 year-old Dujon Sterling in a back four also featuring Ali Suljic, Josh Grant and Cole Dasilva, with Brad Collins in goal.
Ruben Sammut and Mukhtar Ali provided midfield protection with captain Kyle Scott just ahead, playing between Charlie Wakefield and Hubert Adamczyk and behind Ugbo in attack.
Spurs started with plenty of schoolboys of their own; Japhet Tanganga and Jaden Brown in defence plus an attacking midfield trio of Dylan Duncan, Marcus Edwards and Kazaiah Sterling and it was they who started the better at a wet and blustery Chelsea training ground. Moments of real quality were scarce for the opening quarter of an hour before Sterling whipped a shot wide from the edge of the box to liven up proceedings.
Adamczyk tried to do the same for Chelsea only to see his low effort skid wide of Thomas Glover’s near post, whilst Sterling showed why he’s so highly rated by those at Tottenham with more impressive contributions, only for his volley to lack direction at the end of it all.
Chelsea had a good chance to sneak ahead when Sammut met a corner with a header that pinged around the six-yard box but eluded Ugbo’s touch as he attempted to scramble it beyond Glover, and instead Spurs edged ahead with just over half an hour played. Winger Kazaiah took on full back Dujon in a battle of the Sterlings and the visitor came out on top, drawing a foul to win a penalty.
It resulted in a serious-looking injury for the Blues defender and after a long break in play during which he was replaced by Faiq Bolkiah, Loft stepped up to bear Collins from twelve yards to make it 1-0 to Tottenham.
They held that advantage into the interval but Edwards’ adjustments would turn things in his team’s favour rather quickly. Boga replaced Wakefield for his first action since suffering an ankle injury a month ago, and his arrival saw Chelsea shift to a 3-4-2-1 formation to pair him with Scott behind Ugbo whilst asking Adamczyk and Bolkiah to man the wide areas at both ends.
Spurs though were playing well and continued to do so for the opening stages of the second half at least. Sterling took advantage of a slip by Suljic to race clear on goal but Collins stood up well to make an important save, a trick he would soon repeat to deny Loft after Sterling had robbed Grant of the ball in a dangerous position.
In between those Tottenham chances Sammut had cleared the crossbar with Chelsea’s chance of the game, one created by a fine run from Adamczyk, and it looked as if something special would be needed to spark the hosts into something approaching their better form. Boga duly obliged, whipping an unstoppable free kick over the ball and beyond Glover from thirty yards out to even things up just past the hour mark.
Two minutes further down the line he was at it again, only for Glover to prevent his latest dead ball try from going the same way with a good low push away. For the first time Chelsea looked like the more capable team and when schoolboy Mason Mount came on to add even more energy to the team, the screw was well and truly being turned. He immediately tried his luck from distance but lacked accuracy, and then released Ugbo for a chance once again shut down by the giant goalkeeper Glover.
Ugbo didn’t need another invitation to score though, grabbing the winner with seven minutes left on the clock. Sammut’s slide rule pass allowed the young forward to get the better of his defender before opening his body to pass a finish into the far corner to complete the turnround and make it 2-1.
It wasn’t over though, not by any measure. Mount almost sealed the deal with a left-footed curler tipped away again by Glover, before Spurs managed a final hurrah during which Collins was asked to make a save to keep out a low strike from substitute Armani Daly.
Chelsea’s victory sees them go into the top tier as unquestionable favourites to become Under-18 champions, but there’s plenty of action to be dealt with before that schedule kicks off in a fortnight. The Under-21s are in action away to Liverpool on Monday night (Chelsea TV, Sky Sports) and again on Friday at home to Leicester (Chelsea TV) with that all-important FA Youth Cup Semi Final clash with Tottenham on Thursday (Chelsea TV, ITV4) as everything begins to build towards what will be another dramatic end to the youth season.
Chelsea: Collins, Sterling (Bolkiah), Suljic, Grant, C. Dasilva, Sammut, Wakefield (Boga), Ali, Ugbo, Scott (c) (Mount), Adamczyk
Subs not Used: Thompson, Guehi
Goals: Boga, Ugbo
Tottenham Hotspur: Glover, Paul, Muscatt, Owens (c), Tanganga, Brown, Edwards (Roles), Hayford (Marsh), Loft (Daly), Duncan, Sterling
Goal: Loft (pen)