Chelsea maintained their hopes of retaining the Barclays Under-21 Premier League title by beating Fulham 3-1 at Motspur Park on Monday afternoon.
A devastating start by the visitors saw Dominic Solanke score twice inside the opening fifteen minutes to take his personal tally to 38 for the season, and although Adam Taggart halved the deficit just before the break, Charly Musonda put the result beyond doubt in the second half with a fabulous free kick.
With games coming thick and fast at this time of season, manager Adi Viveash made four changes from the side that started at Southampton last Thursday. Fikayo Tomori came in for Fankaty Dabo, meaning Ola Aina switched to the left full back spot to accommodate Tomori on the right, with Dion Conroy and Jake Clarke-Salter in between them.
Musonda slotted in for Charlie Colkett alongside captain Jordan Houghton in midfield, and Reece Mitchell replaced Alex Kiwomya on the right of an attacking trio behind Solanke, with Tammy Abraham making way for Jeremie Boga and Kasey Palmer keeping his place on the left.
Chelsea began with the intent and determination required in order to come out on top in a remarkably tight title race and were a goal to the good with five minutes played. Solanke’s smart run in behind was matched by the pass, and he was able to collect before turning and finishing past Magnus Norman from the corner of the six yard box.
That quickly became a 2-0 lead when he was on hand to tap in from a yard out following a powerful run down the left by Palmer, and it was richly deserved with Fulham not remotely in the contest at this stage. Palmer continued to have tremendous joy against Ryheem Sheckleford and looked a genuine threat with every attack, but a succession of crosses barely missed their mark whilst his goalbound efforts were either off target or saved by Norman.
The hosts did eventually begin the display the quality within their ranks and should have been back in the game midway through the half when a cross made its way through the Chelsea defence only for Taggart to slide his finish wide of the open goal from barely a yard out at the far post. The Australian was having a torrid time of things and was wasteful again after Ange-Freddy Plumain had created from the left.
Solanke was unlucky not to complete his hat-trick when his low shot came back off the foot of the near post and things slowly looked to be turning in Fulham’s favour close to the break. Emerson Hyndman shot straight at Beeney before Jordan Evans’ picture perfect cross presented Taggart with a chance he couldn’t miss, crashing home to make it 2-1.
Kiwomya came on for Mitchell ahead of the restart to give the Blues a greater balance and he set straight to work in keeping Evans back in his own territory rather than be allowed to work on Chelsea’s, where his excellent service was perhaps Fulham’s best chance of scoring. Kiwomya’s crossing wasn’t bad either, with Liam Donnelly and Jonathan Buatu having to work hard to deny Solanke a chance of connecting in the middle.
With just over an hour played, Chelsea restored their two-goal cushion and ultimately secured another vital three points. Aina was tripped on the edge of the box, giving Musonda the chance to step up and drop his free kick over the wall and past a helpless Norman.
He was needed to intervene a minute later when Solanke’s cross from the left took a wicked deflection, but his strong hand low to his right put it out for a corner. Musonda, now released into a more attacking role with Colkett replacing Boga, was enjoying himself and almost doubled his tally with a fierce hit from twenty yards out that rebounded out off the post.
Beeney wasn’t tested at all by Fulham in a second half in which they grew frustrated and tempers appeared to boil over when Plumain was withdrawn voluntarily five minutes from time, with no apparent injury and off the back of a disagreement with manager Peter Grant. For Chelsea, immediate attention turn towards results elsewhere this Bank Holiday Monday before a home match against Liverpool this coming Thursday.
Fulham: Norman, Sheckleford, Evans, Smile, Buatu, Donnelly, Mesca, O’Halloran, Taggart (Redford), Hyndman (de la Torre), Plumain
Subs not Used: Rodak
Chelsea: Beeney, Tomori, Conroy, Clarke-Salter, Aina, Musonda, Mitchell (Kiwomya), Houghton (c), Solanke, Boga (Colkett), Palmer (Abraham)
Subs not Used: Collins
Goals: Solanke (2), Musonda