Chelsea kicked off the new Under-18 season in style with a 4-1 win away to Norwich City on Saturday morning.
Swedish centre-back Ali Suljic opened the scoring in the first half before Iké Ugbo took over, building on an impressive return of eleven goals as a schoolboy last term with a second-hand hat-trick. Harley Black notched a consolation for the hosts but they were rarely able to assert themselves on a confident Blues side throughout.
Having enjoyed a good pre-season with a deep pool of players, coach Joe Edwards had plenty to consider when naming his first team of the season and was able to call upon the services of several more experienced players to line up alongside the new first-year scholars. Nathan Baxter started in goal with Jared Thompson nursing a recent knock, with Suljic and captain Josh Grant in the middle of a back four also featuring Dujon Sterling at right back and Trevoh Chalobah on the left.
Ruben Sammut, Mukhtar Ali and Isaac Christie-Davies provided the stability and nous in midfield having spent much of the summer with Adi Viveash’s Under-21 group, leaving a more youthful attack with Ugbo flanked by Jacob Maddox and Harvey St Clair.
As is appropriate on the first day of any new season, the sun shone brightly on the Colney Training Centre and the mid-morning warmth made for some slow early going. Players on both sides looked to find their more competitive gear and it was the youngest on show in Sterling that found his feet the quickest. Tearing forward from right back at every opportunity, he was the Blues’ most influential player in the first half but was well-matched by Jamal Lewis at left-back for Norwich.
Chances were largely at a premium; George Couzens saw a tame effort easily cleared off the line by Suljic before Christie-Davies was denied at the near post by Aston Oxborough. Unfortunately for the young Canaries stopper, it was his error that allowed Suljic to open the scoring minutes from the break when he spilled a header following St Clair’s corner.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chelsea grew stronger as the game went on and were able to double their lead early in the second half. Christie-Davies saw his shot saved after Sterling did well down the right but Ugbo was on hand to turn the loose ball home from a yard out to grab the first of his three goals.
His second and Chelsea’s third produced the best football of the match; a swift flowing move through the midfield saw Christie-Davies involved again as he slipped a smart through ball into Ugbo’s path, whereupon he arrowed a clinical finish into the bottom corner.
Things became tetchy for a while with Norwich clearly growing frustrated. Henry Pollock was booked for dissent towards St Clair whilst Chalobah also received a caution for an alleged late foul he claimed to have been committed by someone else.
Black gave his side something to shout about with a cracking low hit from twenty yards out to leave Baxter with no chance and make it 3-1 but Ugbo and Chelsea had the last word as he lashed home a loose ball from close range to make it 4-1 after substitute Charlie Wakefield had got the better of Toby Syme down the left.
Norwich City: Oxborough, Syme, Lewis, Pollock, Boateng, Wallis, Black (c), Aransibia, Ashley-Seal, Cantwell, Couzens.
Subs used: McIntosh, Middleton
Chelsea: Baxter, Sterling, Grant (c), Suljic, Chalobah, Sammut, Maddox (C. Dasilva), Ali, Ugbo, Christie-Davies (Wakefield), St Clair (Bolkiah)
Subs not Used: Cumming, Nartey
Goals: Suljic, Ugbo 3