Chelsea and Tottenham shared twenty-seven goals in five meetings at Under-18 level last season and, on Saturday morning at Hotspur Way, there was more of the same as the Blues edged a seven-goal thriller.
Mukhtar Ali opened the scoring but strikes either side of half time by Ryan Loft and Charlie Owens turned the contest in the hosts’ favour. Chelsea responded well though, equalising through Isaac Christie-Davies before Ali and Iké Ugbo put daylight between the sides, meaning a late Loft penalty wasn’t enough to prevent Tottenham going down to a 4-3 defeat.
Managers Kieran McKenna and Joe Edwards have each been keen this season to focus on the importance of a good defensive record, and both sides have done well in that regard by and large, but any notion of a stalemate here quickly went out of the window in a frenetic opening ten minutes in which Chelsea hit the woodwork and had two penalty shouts turned down.
Ali was the unlucky party denied by the frame of the goal as he watched his fiercely-struck free kick beat goalkeeper Alfie Whiteman but not the crossbar, and then controversy followed. Ali and Ugbo both had reason to feel they were impeded in the Spurs penalty area but referee Daniel Robinson wasn’t convinced on either occasion.
Loft and Charlie Wakefield each had sights of goal from tight angles, whilst Christie-Davies went close with another set-piece and Cole Dasilva wasted a decent opportunity with a tame shot. The home team had spells of possession but weren’t able to penetrate a stout Chelsea defence and eventually found themselves going behind.
Ali opened the scoring when Tottenham turned possession over on the edge of their own box, allowing Christie-Davies to play him in for a well-taken close-range finish. It was deserved on the balance of play, but it wasn’t enough to see them go into half time with the lead, as Zenon Stylianides released Loft late in the first period and, having escaped the attentions of Ali Suljic, the big man strode away before clipping past the onrushing Baxter.
It had been a fast-paced and action-packed forty-five minutes by most standards but what was to follow made it look anything but. Just a minute of second-half play had been clocked when Charlie Owens delivered a free kick from deep on the left; it eluded everyone before settling into the far corner to give Tottenham the lead for the first time.
They held it until the hour mark, when a spot of penalty area pinball saw the ball fall kindly for Christie-Davies, who volleyed home despite home protests for a foul by Ugbo. Almost straight from kickoff however, Spurs should have gone back ahead, but Kazaiah Sterling wasn’t able to take a clear one-on-one facilitated by a fortunate break of the ball in midfield.
He would soon rue his profligacy too, for a well-worked Chelsea corner allowed them to restore their advantage. A creative and patient move culminated with Ali scoring his second of the day with a low, placed effort beyond the reach of Whiteman, making it 3-2.
The game’s decisive moment came when substitute Keanan Bennetts played a blind backpass that was intercepted by Ugbo, allowing him to round Whiteman and give Chelsea an important two-goal lead. The contest became fractured and delayed in the final ten minutes with Spurs chasing the game and a long injury stoppage for a collision between Ugbo and Chris Paul added to the drama.
Robinson did eventually award a penalty minutes from time when he adjudged Chelsea substitute Joseph Colley to have pulled Dylan Duncan to the ground. Loft converted to make it 4-3 and set up a grandstand finish, one they almost turned into a comeback were it not for a superb save by Baxter in a scramble that resulted in another long stoppage for Miro Muheim to receive treatment.
Nine minutes of stoppage time layer the Blues were able to celebrate a victory that keeps them top of the league on goal difference at the very least. They shared the summit with Reading going into the morning’s action and will be keen to maintain their good form when they return to Cobham next weekend for the visit of Category One newcomers Swansea City.
Tottenham Hotspur: Whiteman, Paul, Tsaroulla (Muscatt), Owens, Tanganga, Maghoma (c), Edwards (Bennets), Stylianides, Loft, Duncan, Sterling
Subs not Used: McDermott, Oteh, Marsh
Goals: Loft (2), Owens
Chelsea: Baxter, Grant (c), Tomori, Suljic (Colley), C. Dasilva, Sammut, Wakefield (St Clair ), Ali, Ugbo, Christie-Davies, Muheim (Adamczyk)
Subs not Used: Kozakis, Maddox
Goals: Ali (2), Christie-Davies, Ugbo