Chelsea’s hopes of adding the Barclays Under-18 Premier League title to their already impressive trophy haul were dealt a considerable and most likely fatal blow on Saturday morning as they allowed Manchester City to come from three goals behind to claim a 3-3 draw at Aldershot’s Electrical Services Stadium.
A fantastic first half display capped by a brace by Isaac Christie-Davies had the Blues well in command and the win looked to have been assured when Tammy swept home his 40th of the season ten minutes in the second period. Goals from Paulo Fernandes, Lukas Nmecha and Bersant Celina, however, ensured the visitors took a share of the spoils and results elsewhere on Saturday will likely end the Blues’ title aspirations.
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Having responded so well to adversity last time out away to Manchester United, Joe Edwards kept faith with the majority of his young side and made two changes from that team, with Abraham and Kyle Scott replacing Hubert Adamczyk and Faiq Bolkiah. The same 3-4-2-1 formation was retained, with Under-16 goalkeeper Jared Thompson protected by three fellow schoolboys ahead of him in Dujon Sterling, Josh Grant and Trevoh Chalobah.
Charlie Wakefield and Miro Muheim played wide in a midfield four featuring Ruben Sammut and Mukhtar Ali in the middle, with Christie-Davies and Scott floating off Abraham in attack.
It was perhaps as one-sided a first half as there had been all season, which came as something of a surprise with City including five FA Youth Cup finalists in their starting eleven. One of those, goalkeeper Kjetil Haug, was called into action early on when he did well to beat Sammut’s powerful volley away for a corner. There was little he could do about the game’s opening goal inside ten minutes though, as Ali picked out Muheim on the left, and his ball across the face of goal was tapped home at the far post by the opportunistic Christie-Davies.
City’s struggles in dealing with Chelsea’s shape, particularly in midfield, meant they were often camped in their own end of the pitch with no way out. The hosts piled forward with every opportunity and Haug was soon back in the thick of it, showing a strong right hand to keep Muheim at bay.
The lead became 2-0 with twenty minutes on the clock and it was that man Christie-Davies again, this time weaving his way into a shooting position on the edge of the box before clipping a smart low effort into the bottom corner. It was the least their display had deserved and they might have extended the advantage further through Scott as first he raced away from captain Tosin Adarabioyo before being hampered when shooting, and then firing over when collecting a short corner from Ali.
Wakefield was next to try his luck, exchanging possession with Scott and dragging his shot wide of the target, and City clearly felt they had to do something to stem the blue tide. Manager Jason Wilcox replaced midfielder Will Patching with ten minutes left in the first half and introduced the calming influence of powerful Under-15 midfielder Tom Dele-Bashiru instead.
The subtle impact of a more assured and physically capable performer helped lift the visitors closer to half time and they began to make advances into attacking areas. Fernandes pulled a shot wide and Nmecha stole a yard in Chalobah only to find Thompson in good form, but Chelsea had the last word of a half they had bossed when Christie-Davies almost completed an unlikely treble with a hooked effort at the near post that was saved by Haug.
The second half was a completely different story yet it started much the same as the first. Chelsea made it 3-0 on 56 minutes when Abraham was on hand to sweep up for his 40th goal of an incredible season (becoming the second Chelsea player to reach the milestone after Dominic Solanke did the same against Liverpool on Thursday) following Haug’s denial of Christie-Davies. That should have been that as far as the result went, and the Blues would keep their their title destiny alive for the time being at least.
City’s response was immediate however, and Fernandes’ accurate shot into the roof of the net to make it 3-1 just moments later was the catalyst they needed to mount their fightback. They were aided by Chelsea’s return to a back four when Cole Dasilva replaces Wakefield but that itself was a move which proved successful at Manchester United last week. Here, though, it allowed Fernandes and Celina in particular to operate with a little more freedom and space, and Wilcox’s side enjoyed their best spell of the contest.
Celina saw a pair of long range tries come to nothing whilst Fernandes went closer with the aid of a deflection but even with ten minutes to go, taking something back home with them seemed an unlikely prospect. Two goals in quick succession changed that though, with the first arriving on 82 minutes as Thompson failed to hold Fernandes’ shot, allowing Nmecha to launch a header at the loose ball and make it 3-2.
Celina then provided the coup de grace, curling home with a delightfully flighted free kick from the edge of the area to haul City level at 3-3. Chelsea mounted a late surge in a bid to rescue victory and had moments of promise from both Abraham and Sterling, but the draw means they head to Aston Villa next weekend in the last game of the season with no chance of claiming the title, unless a series of remarkable events go their way.
Chelsea: Thompson, Sterling, Grant, Sammut, Chalobah, Ali (Adamczyk), Wakefield (C. Dasilva), Scott, Abraham (c), Christie-Davies, Muheim (Mount)
Subs not Used: Cumming, Bolkiah
Goals: Christie-Davies ‘7, ’20, Abraham ’55
Manchester City: Haug, Duhaney, Humphreys, Adarabioyo (c), Blackshaw, Diallo, Fernandes, Patching (Dele-Bashiru), Nmecha, Celina, Buckley (Bolton)
Subs not Used: Oliver, Albinson, Bullock
Goals: Fernandes ’57, Nmecha ’82, Celina ’85