Chelsea ensured they will finish top of the Under-18 League’s South table this season as they defeated West London neighbours Fulham 2-1 on Friday.
The Blues had already secured qualification for the top tier of play for the final two months of the season but goals from Ali Suljic and Mukhtar Ali mean they can no longer be overtaken at the summit, a proud achievement for the entire squad.
With Monday’s FA Youth Cup trip to Newcastle very much in mind, coach Joe Edwards fielded a decidedly second-string side, but one that had nonetheless picked up some very impressive results of late. Jared Thompson started in goal behind a back four featuring three schoolboys, as goalscorer Suljic was joined by Richard Nartey, Josh Grant and Cole Dasilva.
Ali and Ruben Sammut added some experience to the midfield with Faiq Bolkiah and Miro Muheim lending their increasingly robust physiques to wide areas, whilst the team was completed by two more Under-16s in Jacob Maddox and Iké Ugbo.
Fulham too have featured plenty of underage players this term and kicked off with Ryan Sessegnon and Dennis Adeniran amongst their ranks, but also included the bigger and stronger forwards Steven Humphrys and Aaron Redford. In atrociously wet and windy conditions at Motspur Park, the game took a little while to get going but the hosts did enjoy the first significant shot on goal as Josh Walker called upon Thompson with a smart backheel from close range.
Chelsea got to grips with the sub-par surface though, and soon began to assert their own qualities on proceedings. Ugbo and Ali had half chances come to nothing before Bolkiah fired a warning shot in whipping a tremendous effort towards goal, beating Magnus Norman but only clipping the outside of the post.
Play swung back the other way with Redford and Adeniran testing Thompson’s handling of the wet ball but the Chelsea stopper would have a moment to forget as Fulham took the lead after the half hour mark. A long ball over the top hung in the wind but still called upon Thompson to intervene; it held up more than he expected and left him sufficiently exposed for Redford to steal in and tuck home into an unguarded net for 1-0.
It was ever so slightly a goal deserved on the balance of play but Chelsea soon saw to that and were level less than five minutes later. Muheim swung a corner into the mix and Suljic flung himself at it to head home his second goal of the season and make it 1-1.
Muheim’s set piece expertise then changed to free kicks as a wickedly hit strike from at least thirty yards out commanded Norman into an agile save to keep things level at the break.
A quick half time turnaround with both teams remaining outside meant the pace of the game stayed roughly the same early in the second half and again, Fulham had the better of it. They moved the ball with greater purpose and threat, but Thompson had little to do. In an effort to take control of the game, Edwards introduced the in-form duo of Kyle Scott and Fikayo Tomori and it quickly had the desired effect, with Chelsea enjoying their best spell of the game.
Bolkiah found a way into the Fulham penalty area with time and space only to produce a delivery that was neither shot nor cross, whilst Maddox shot over when well set on the other side. Ugbo then steered inches wide after good work by Tomori whilst in response, Harrison Paton’s flighted free kick was pushed over by Thompson.
The clock ticked towards ninety with both teams appearing to have settled for a draw but, with a minute remaining, Chelsea stole it. Tomori once again produced the goods down the right, skipping away from Sessegnon before driving a ball into the centre and, where Ugbo turned wide earlier, Ali arrived on cue to volley home for 2-1 and all three points.
Fulham: Norman, Sheckleford, Sessegnon, Elworthy, Davies, Paton, Humphrys, De La Torre, Redford, Walker (Shamsi), Adeniran (Buffonge)
Subs not Used: Fossey, Opoku, Barnes
Chelsea: Thompson, Nartey (Tomori), Suljic, Grant, C. Dasilva, Sammut (c), Ali, Maddox,. Muheim (Scott), Bolkiah, Ugbo
Subs not Used: Cumming, Uwakwe, Kemp
Goals: Suljic, Ali