Chelsea’s Under-18s kept their hopes of adding the national league title to their recent slew of successes with a sensational 2-1 victory away to Manchester United on Saturday morning.
In a match played at Altrincham’s Moss Lane stadium rather than in the usual confines of a training ground environment, Chelsea went behind early to a Marcus Rashford penalty and trailed for much of the game, but a wonderful second half performance saw them draw level courtesy of a Dujon Sterling-inspired own goal before late pressure told and Miro Muheim claimed the three points in the 93rd minute of play.
In the aftermath of the FA Youth Cup Final and sandwiched in between two keenly-important Under-21 league matches, Joe Edwards named a youthful starting line-up featuring four schoolboys and a change of shape to accommodate eleven changes from Monday’s victory over United’s rivals City at Stamford Bridge.
Jared Thompson replaced Brad Collins in goal whilst a back three was made up of Under-16 defenders Josh Grant and Trevoh Chalobah and Under-15 Sterling. Muheim and Charlie Wakefield started as wide midfielders with Ruben Sammut and Mukhtar Ali operating in central midfield, whilst Isaac Christie-Davies and Hubert Adamczyk played just off lone forward Faiq Bolkiah.
United, conversely, came into the match top of the table and with a near full-strength side including highly-rated Dutch Under-17 international Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who was yet to join up with his country ahead of the forthcoming European Championships; a luxury not afforded to Chelsea and Iké Ugbo by England.
A tentative opening in front of a smattering of support on a grey Manchester morning was livened up by the award of an early Man Utd penalty. Rashford strode purposefully into the Chelsea penalty area where he was upended by Grant, and the big forward duly dusted himself down before sending Thompson the wrong way to open the scoring. It was a lead almost doubled moments later when good work from Tyler Reid down the right saw him pick out Ruairi Croskery, but Grant’s intervention this time was a more timely one.
Croskery himself wouldn’t have to wait very long before getting a second bite at the cherry though, again benefitting from Reid’s powerful running down the Chelsea left, but this time the young midfielder saw his effort saved very well indeed by Thompson.
The visitors had been limited to playing largely on the periphery of the United penalty box, with the league’s most resolute defence proving an especially tough nut to crack in the early stages. Ali tried his luck from distance to no avail when spotting Henderson off his line, and when they did break into advanced territory following fine approach play from Bolkiah and Adaczyk, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s tackle on Christie-Davies cleared the danger.
Sammut, Muheim and Ali all scuffed efforts tamely towards Henderson from the edge of the box whilst Borthwick-Jackson did the same at the other end cutting in from the left, and although Jordan Thompson delivered a much cleaner strike from further out, he found namesake Jared in fine form, holding onto the well-struck shot impressively.
A late chance came Bolkiah’s way after Muheim did well on the left wing but a slight touch by Ro-Shaun Williams meant he was unable to gather possession in time for a shot, leaving Chelsea trailing at the half time whistle.
Mason Mount replaced Ali ahead of the restart and it was an effective ten minutes of play that followed for the Blues. Christie-Davies’ 25-yard free kick was only inches wide of the post whilst Muheim and Chalobah combined well high up the pitch to work a chance for Sammut, one Borthwick-Jackson again denied them. The home team themselves continued to offer plenty of reminders of their capacities though, with Williams and Rashford each causing moments of consternation for the Chelsea back line.
Rashford followed that low effort from the edge of the box with the clearest chance of the entire match on the hour mark, collecting the ball in space from Callum Gribbin and beating Sterling only to shoot wastefully wide from no more than eight yards out. Gribbin himself bobbled one wide whilst Sterling motored down the right to win a corner which produced a good chance for Mount, but Reid’s acrobatic attempt at a block did enough to allow Henderson to save.
The Blues were undeniably finishing the game the stronger though, inspired by a change of shape back to the more familiar 4-2-3-1 (albeit without a formal striker), and as they turned the screw, United’s resistance broke. Sterling’s increasing influence over proceedings saw him once again find his way into the Reds’ penalty area and his cross was turned home at the near post by Borthwick-Jackson, with Mount waiting to pounce in any event.
Forward they came, inspired by restoring parity, and substitute Cole Dasilva worked Henderson with a powerful low shot, whilst Gribbin’s more cultured approach down at the other end ensured Thompson was kept busy with ten minutes remaining. Muheim’s sublime skill to flick the ball over Borthwick-Jackson’s head gave him a great chance to score, but there again was Henderson to smother his advances with a brave late save.
Christie-Davies and Mount each had one more try without succeeding but there was to be a late winner as, following a spell of concerted pressure, Muheim took charge of the situation by gathering the ball and watching his shot deflect off the unfortunate Borthwick-Jackson, loop over Henderson and cross the line to secure a remarkable and richly-deserved 2-1 win.
It leaves Chelsea just two points off United in the race for the league summit, and with two games in hand they now await results from elsewhere this afternoon before knowing whether their fate rests in their own hands. Be sure to check both @chelseayouth and @youthhawk for the latest.
Manchester United: Henderson, Reid, Borthwick-Jackson, Williams (c), Fosu-Mensah, Thompson, Redmond, Croskery, Rashford, Gribbin, Riley
Subs not Used: Scott, Dorrington, Rathbone, Whelan
Chelsea: Thompson, Sterling, Grant, Chalobah, Muheim, Sammut (c), Wakefield, Ali (Mount 45), Bolkiah (C.Dasilva 63), Christie-Davies, Adamczyk
Subs not Used: Cumming