Chelsea’s first home match of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League season ended in disappointment as they were defeated 3-1 by Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Friday night.
In a performance blighted by inconsistency and no little amount of bad luck, the Blues found themselves two goals behind midway through the first half as Saints winger Sam McQueen grabbed a quick-fire double. Chances came and went and Jay Dasilva struck the woodwork but Jake Hesketh put the result beyond doubt in the latter stages of the second half, rendering Tammy Abraham’s latest goal little more than a consolation.
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Having begun the campaign with a fine 1-0 win at Liverpool last weekend, spirits were high in Adi Viveash’s camp and a talented, if young, starting eleven was named for the latest showpiece fixture at the club’s home. Brad Collins recovered from a recent injury to take his place behind a back four featuring Dasilva and captain Fankaty Dabo at left and right-back respectively, with Dion Conroy alongside Fikayo Tomori in the middle.
Jake Clarke-Salter was utilised in a defensive midfield role for the first time since his junior days, and he was joined by John Swift and Charly Musonda, who each provided a more attacking threat. Alex Kiwomya and Reece Mitchell once again flanked Abraham in attack, meaning Kasey Palmer dropped down to the substitutes’ bench.
Six of Southampton’s starting eleven came into the match with at least one Premier League appearance to their name and, perhaps more importantly, intent on avenging something of a mauling in SW6 back in March. Then, Chelsea roared out of the blocks to take a 5-0 first-half lead before claiming a 5-3 win, and manager Martin Hunter will doubtless have been at pains to ensure his players fared much better on their latest visit to West London.
That they did, giving as good as they got in a relatively equal opening fifteen minutes. Mitchell’s clever movement saw him ghost between centre-backs Will Wood and Ollie Cook to latch onto Swift’s through ball but his finish was tamely struck at Harry Isted in the Saints goal, whilst both Conroy and Tomori had to be alert to danger at the other end to prevent Hesketh and Marcus Barnes from getting away an effort at Collins.
Perhaps just shading things ever so slightly, the visitors opened the scoring midway through the first half. Lloyd Isgrove fashioned space for a cross from the left and delivered the ball into a dangerous area in between Collins and Dasilva, allowing McQueen to muscle his way through and guide the ball into the back of the net.
The Chelsea response was both quick and impressive. Swift planted a free kick a few yards off target before Kiwomya got the better of Josh Debayo down the right-hand side and picked out Abraham, who somehow failed to guide his close-range header towards the target. The play continued to develop and eventually came back to Kiwomya, who saw his controlled half-volley float wide.
Such profligacy would continue to frustrate the hosts on the night, particularly as they found themselves 2-0 behind not long after. A flowing Southampton move from back to front saw Armani Little break free of his midfield shackles and bear down on goal, and although his effort came back off the post, McQueen was the sharpest to react in converting the rebound to double his own tally as well as his team’s.
Abraham went close twice more before the break, contriving to sky well over the bar after good work by Musonda and then drawing a smart low save from Isted with a free kick. Musonda, though, was guilty of the worst miss of the lot as he found himself clear on goal only to screw his shot wide of the target.
Shortly before the break, Viveash made an adjustment to his defence, bringing Dasilva into midfield and sending Clarke-Salter back into defence. Ahead of the second half Kevin Wright came on for Conroy to fill the void at left-back, with Palmer replacing Swift in a bid to add greater attacking potency to the team as they sought a way back into the contest.
And, were it not for the width of a crossbar, they would have been. A short corner routine saw Dasilva collect the ball on the edge of the box, where he settled and curled a wondrous effort that left Isted rooted to his spot only for the woodwork to intervene; the heavy rain cascading down from the frame of the goal as it bounced to safety.
Chelsea pressed and pressed, and introduced 16 year-old forward Iké Ugbo with twenty-five minutes left, but Southampton defended resolutely and limited their opponents to speculative efforts and moves cut short before they could develop into something more tangible. When they had the opportunity break away themselves they did so with speed and threat, and with a quarter of an hour remaining they sealed an opportunistic victory when Clarke-Salter allowed a wet ball to slip under his foot and into the path of Hesketh, who did the rest in style by crashing high over the despairing Collins.
Abraham got the goal he deserved late on when he collected a throw from the always-impressive captain Dabo before swivelling and finding the bottom corner – extending a streak of scoring in every match since reporting back for pre-season – but it came too late in the day to affect the outcome. Chelsea will now turn their attentions to a trip to Carrow Road on August 28th, when they will hope to pick themselves up and get back to winning ways.
Chelsea: Collins, Dabo (c), Tomori, Conroy (Wright 45), Dasilva, Clarke-Salter, Kiwomya, Swift (Palmer 45), Abraham, Musonda, Mitchell (Ugbo 65)
Subs not Used: Baxter, Suljic
Goal: Abraham ‘86
Southampton: Isted, McCarthy, Debayo, Gape, Cook, Wood, McQueen, Little, Barnes, Hesketh, Isgrove
Subs not Used: Slattery, Hallett, Bakary, Sims, Olomola
Goals: McQueen ‘22, ‘29, Hesketh ’74
Booked: McCarthy, Hesketh