A goal from Josh Cullen in stoppage time handed West Ham United a 1-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Friday night and was enough to crown Manchester United as Barclays Under-21 Premier League Champions; the Blues yielding a title they had held since winning at Old Trafford twelve months ago.
The Blues never really found their rhythm and looked for large spells a tired side finally affected by the twice-weekly schedule thrust upon them in the season’s deciding weeks, but they gave it a good go in the second half. Credit must however go to an already-relegated West Ham team that gave as good as they got and very much deserved some reward for their efforts.
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Going into the night knowing they needed two wins from the final two games and to overturn a considerable goal difference margin to even stand a chance of retaining their title, coach Adi Viveash adopted a change of formation in a bid to increase his side’s attacking potential. Brad Collins – earning another start with Mitchell Beeney required as cover for the injured Petr Cech on first team duty – started in goal behind a three-man defence of Fikayo Tomori, Jordan Houghton and Dion Conroy, with Ola Aina and Reece Mitchell manning the wing-back spots respectively.
Charlie Colkett, Charly Musonda and Kasey Palmer took up familiar midfield roles whilst the forward pairing of Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham entered the night with a combined 81 goals this season and would be central to any aspirations of making life hard for Man Utd in the race for the title.
Early signs were promising as the two newly-appointed wing backs combined to good effect. Mitchell skipped away from Josh Pask down the left and pulled the ball back towards the edge of the area, where it was met by Aina, who in turn steered a low shot straight at goalkeeper Raphael Spiegel. The visitors were also sharp from the off though, and Djair Parfitt-Williams went close shortly afterwards with a low placed effort just wide of the post.
The action swung furiously from end to end; Musonda wriggling free in the corner before delivering a cross intended for Solanke but cut out by Manny Onariase, and the stocky and powerful forward Jordan Brown cutting in from the left and drawing a smart low save from Collins in response. Collins was by far the busier ‘keeper for long stretches of the first half and after Nathan Mavila had flashed one across the face of his goal, he was called upon to make a magnificent stand-up denial of Brown after poor defending had gifted the West Ham man a clear one-on-one.
That flurry of chances persuaded Viveash to do away with his new formation and revert to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1, with Tomori shifting to left-back to accommodate the move. Immediately the home team looked more comfortable and Palmer’s guided effort from some 25 yards out asked Spiegel to get down low and shovel it away with a strong left hand. It was Palmer’s last involvement of note however as he soon made way for Jeremie Boga not long after taking a hefty blow to the upper body, rendering him unable to continue.
Musonda’s swerving effort threatened to catch out Spiegel but he got his body in the way enough to keep it out, and in first half stoppage time West Ham were given the clearest chance possible to go ahead when Aina conceded a penalty for a mis-timed challenge in the box. Captain Cullen stepped up but could only plant his penalty well wide of the target, ensuring the score remained 0-0 at the break.
Injuries continued to hamstring Chelsea early in the second half as they were forced to use their remaining two substitutes in response to Mitchell twisting awkwardly as he went down under Alex Pike’s attention, and to Colkett coming out of a fifty-fifty tackle worse for wear. Alex Kiwomya and Mukhtar Ali came on in their respective steads and the fresh legs of the former in particular helped the hosts to enjoy their best spell of the contest.
Aina’s delicious cross from the left looked certain to be converted by Solanke but his header was impeded enough by Pask to see it off target, whilst Abraham did similar moments later. Musonda, by now taking charge of affairs and putting the team on his back, dazzled and danced his way past tackle after tackle but lacked the luck required when his cross-shot deflected wide for a corner.
Abraham sliced wide at the far post after a patient move built down the left and when Solanke did finally find the back of the net after Conroy had nudged the ball goalwards, he was adjudged to have been in an offside position by the linesman. It seemed it wasn’t to be Chelsea’s night and so it proved in the 91st minute when Cullen atoned for his earlier errant spot kick by delivering a crisply-hit shot from eighteen yards out, beating Collins and giving Steve Potts’ side a fine memory to end the season with.
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Houghton (c), Conroy, Colkett (Ali), Mitchell (Kiwomya), Musonda, Solanke, Palmer (Boga), Abraham
Subs not Used: Beeney, Christie-Davies
West Ham United: Spiegel, Pike, Page (Neufville), Makasi, Pask, Onariase, Parfitt-Williams, Nasha, Brown (Gordon), Cullen (c), Mavila
Subs not Used: Howes, Diangana