Chelsea’s Under-18s returned to winning form in academy league action on Saturday with a 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion at a sun-baked Cobham.
First half goals from Miro Muheim and Iké Ugbo secured an advantage the young Blues never looked like ceding, and Mukhtar Ali capped the performance with a fine late free kick, just before George Cater grabbed a consolation for the visitors.
A match day squad featuring no fewer than nine schoolboys reflected a much-changed side by Joe Edwards with Monday’s FA Youth Cup Final clash against Manchester City in mind. Jared Thompson, a recent England Under-16 champion in Montaigu, started in goal behind a back four including Charlie Wakefield and three more U16s in Trevoh Chalobah, Josh Grant and Cole Dasilva.
Ali was handed the captain’s armband and was joined in midfield by Isaac Christie-Davies and Kyle Scott, leaving Muheim and Faiq Bolkiah to work with Ugbo in attack. West Brom were perhaps almost as young, with just a single second year scholar in their ranks and a very inexperienced subs bench.
Chelsea went close to opening the scoring inside two minutes when Grant connected well with Muheim’s corner only to see his header crash off the outside of the goalpost and away to safety. It was, however, a rare moment of attacking potency by either side in an opening played at near pre-season pace and without any real risk involved.
The Blues quickly developed that into an advantageous position by making the better of the going and after one or two half-chances involving Bolkiah and Ugbo, took a 19th minute lead. Christie-Davies’ advances into Baggies territory were brought to an end but Muheim latched onto the loose ball the quickest and showed the presence of mind to shift it into a shooting position before curling past Matthew Hall to make it 1-0.
Things then settled back into a slower tempo, with plenty of Chelsea possession designed to probe and prod for a way through, but West Brom defended well. At the other end a good run and shot by Chay Scrivens saw Thompson get down well for a rare save, but they rarely looked like threatening and found themselves further behind ten minutes before half time.
Scott’s excellent slide tackle on Jack Fitzwater created a turnover in possession in West Brom territory, and Chelsea pounced in clinical fashion. Ugbo collected the through ball and was able to steady himself before finishing well for the eleventh time this season.
Going into the break 2-0 up, the job was now to see the result out and not give the visitors anything to hang their hopes on. Another rather tepid spell of football leading up to the your mark went a long way to achieving that before Edwards began to introduce some younger legs from the bench; Mason Mount, Marc Guehi and Richard Nartey replacing Scott, Chalobah and Bolkiah.
A patient and clever move down the right saw Ali well placed to either shoot or cross, but as he looked to roll Muheim in for a second, West Brom were able to clear their lines. Mount in particular found some good pockets of space to provide a regular threat and almost grabbed himself a deserved goal with a quick interception followed by a floated effort that landed on top of the goal.
In the dying embers of proceedings, Ali gave the scoreline the gloss it deserved when he dropped a peach of a free kick inside Hall’s near post to make it 3-0, but West Brom immediately reduced that to 3-1 when Cater stole a step on Guehi, allowing him to cut back inside and curl very nicely indeed over Thompson for a consolation effort. Muheim might have been able to restore a more handsome winning margin with his own late set piece moment but he found Hall able to make a good save.
Attentions now turn to the FA Youth Cup Final first leg against Manchester City on Monday. Tickets for the second leg at Stamford Bridge the following Monday are on sale now priced at just £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Chelsea: Thompson, Wakefield, Chalobah (Guehi 61), Grant, C. Dasilva, Ali (c), Bolkiah (Nartey 70), Christie-Davies, Ugbo, Scott (Mount 56), Muheim
Sub not Used: Baxter
West Brom: Hall, Sweeney (Soleaan 80), Melbourne, Field (Okho 58), Fitzwater (c), McCourt, Scrivens, Elbouzedi, Cater, Smith, Edwards
Subs not Used: Moran, Jool, Wilding
Goal: Cater ’90