Chelsea’s Under-18s surrendered their unbeaten start to the 2015-16 season on Saturday morning as they went down to a 2-0 defeat away to West Ham United.
In many ways the result demonstrated the unpredictable week-to-week proposition that is academy football as, although the Hammers had get to win themselves coming into the fixture, first-half goals from Declan Rice and Idris Kanu proved enough to get them off and running whilst tripping the Blues for the first time this term.
They deserved it too, only denied a more handsome margin of victory by several key interventions from Chelsea goalkeeper Nathan Baxter, the highlight of which was undoubtedly a tremendous save from Joe Powell’s penalty shortly before half time. Mark Phillips’ boys defended resolutely and, assisted by a slightly off-colour display from the visitors, we’re good value for the three points.
They might well have been on the board within within thirty seconds of kick-off but Baxter was on hand to keep out a volley from Grady Diangana to get his busy morning underway. He was soon called upon again to push way a testing free kick from Powell, doing his bit to keep his side on level terms whilst the rest of the team struggled to find their groove.
Even when he was eventually beaten midway through the first half, it came after he had dealt with a troubling deflected effort from another set piece. His reaction save was impressive but Rice, a Chelsea academy member until the age of 14, pounced on the loose ball to lash home his second goal of the season.
The closest Chelsea came to scoring all game came from a West Ham header as the half-hour marked ticked by. A dangerous cross from the left was inadvertently flicked goalwards by Jake Eggleton but England Under-18 international Sam Howes made an acrobatic save to spare the blushes of his younger team-mate.
Controversy followed when Joseph Colley was adjusted to have been too boisterous in his tussle with Kanu and a West Ham penalty was awarded, but Baxter flung himself to his right to get to Powell’s effort and keep things at 1-0. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do to stop Kanu doubling the lead a moment later as the 15 year-old curled home a lovely strike from the edge of the area, albeit with the aid of a deflection.
Seeking inspiration and impetus in order for his team to turn things around, coach Joe Edwards made several half-time adjustments. Hubert Adamczyk and Jacob Maddox, both quiet in the first half, were replaced by Cole Dasilva and Dujon Sterling with the formation shifting to three at the back with wing backs.
Armed with fresh legs and a renewed mentality, Chelsea bolted out of the traps for the restart, pressing higher up the pitch and engaging in more tackles to begin to try to force the issue. They met stout resistance though, with Rice and central defensive partner Josh Pask exceptional throughout, and clear goalscoring chances were kept to a minimum.
What they did have they didn’t take; Muheim dribbled inside from a short corner before shooting wide, and later headed wide at the near post when well-placed. Meanwhile, West Ham were content to put numbers behind the ball and let Diangana and Kanu loiter for counter-attacking opportunities; the latter coming close to doubling his tally with a forceful run that lacked a finish.
Chelsea threw on Dan Kemp late in the match and they should have at least come away with something to show for a better second half, but Ruben Sammut planted a header straight at Howes without a claret and blue shirt to be seen around him. Things finished as they started, with Baxter clawing away a long-range dig by Powell, who also found time to spurn two other chances at the death.
The Blues will be hoping to return to winning ways next Saturday when they welcome Brighton to Cobham, a fixture you can watch live on ChelseaFC.com with a Fan Club+ membership.
West Ham United: Howes, Eggleton (Dobson), Neufvile, Sylvestre, Pask, Rice, Powell, Carter, Kanu (Johnson), Diangana (Browne), Borg
Goals: Rice, Kanu
Chelsea: Baxter, Grant (c), Colley, Suljic (Kemp), Chalobah, Sammut, St Clair, Christie-Davies, Muheim, Maddox (Sterling), Adamczyk (C. Dasilva)
Subs not Used: Thompson