Chelsea’s Under-18s extended their recent unbeaten run, but will feel that a 2-2 draw away to Arsenal on Saturday morning was a case of two points dropped after allowing their hosts back into the game late in the day.
Iké Ugbo opened the scoring inside of two minutes and the Blues were well in command of the contest for long spells. Martell Taylor-Crossdale added a league-leading 13th goal of the season in the second half to seemingly secure the win but Eddie Nketiah pulled one back after good by Joe Willock, who himself scored the equalise from the penalty spot following a foul by Joseph Colley.
Chelsea used the match as a dress rehearsal for their FA Youth Cup Third Round date with Swansea on December 13th and were almost at full strength, with only the unwell Trevoh Chalobah absent. Polish goalkeeper Marcin Bułka returned between the sticks with the back four comprised of Dujon Sterling, Colley, Marc Guehi and Josh Grant, and the diamond midfield featured Luke McCormick at the base, Mason Mount at the top, and Jacob Maddox alongside Conor Gallagher shuttling either side. Ugbo and Taylor-Crossdale led the way up front.
It took them barely a minute to get going in the harsh winter sun of the Shenley morning. Ugbo strode forward relatively unchallenged before ripping off a smart low finish into the far corner past Joao Virginia for his 9th goal of the season across all age groups. It would prove to be a deserved strike too, as the Blues played far better than their North London rivals for the first 45 minutes, and really should have been able to extend their advantage on a number of occasions.
Taylor-Crossdale came the closest to doing so when he was released at the end of a jinking Maddox run but, having beaten Virginia, he saw his effort clip the outside of the far post. He and Mount also missed the target with presentable openings whilst, in response, Arsenal had only threatened through Nketiah and Josh Da Siva; the former denied well by Bułka in a one-on-one scenario. The only real negative in the first half came in the form of an injury to Josh Grant, who was replaced ten minutes before the break by Reece James.
Predictably, Arsenal were better when the second half got underway, with manager Kwame Ampadu adjusting things to ensure his youngsters played higher up the pitch and challenged more aggressively for possession. It resulted in a few half-chances that failed to really worry Bułka, and instead the win looked to have been sealed when Taylor-Crossdale reacted quickest to a loose ball in the box after Gallagher had gone down asking for a penalty to lash home from eight yards.
Yet, despite trailing 2-0, Arsenal didn’t give up hope, and it took a fantastic block by Colley to keep the lively Nketiah at bay before Vlad Dragomir wasted a great opening on what was admittedly his weaker foot. With fifteen minutes to go though, they grabbed themselves a lifeline, when Willock’s enterprising approach play gave Nketiah the chance to drill low and hard into the bottom corner for 2-1.
Chelsea were now up against it and, unfortunately, they couldn’t see out the remaining minutes. Colley’s clumsy tackle on substitute Nathan Tella inside the box resulted in a clear penalty, one that Willock confidently stroked home from twelve yards out to restore parity. The away team worked hard in the closing stages to find another goal, with Mount and Ugbo close but not close enough, and they had to settle for just a share of the spoils.
Morris’ group now return to Cobham for their last league action of 2016 at home to Norwich City next Saturday before hosting Cardiff at Aldershot in the Youth Cup four days later.
Arsenal: Virginia, Osei-Tutu, Bola, Da Silva, Olowu, Pileas, Smith-Rowe, Dragomir (Coyle), Nketiah, Willock, Malen (Tella)
Subs not Used: Crean, Ballard, Medley
Goals: Nketiah, Willock (pen)
Chelsea: Bułka, Sterling, Colley, Guehi, Grant (James), McCormick, Gallagher (McEachran), Maddox, Ugbo, Mount, Taylor-Crossdale (St Clair)
Subs not Used: Cumming, C.Brown
Goals: Ugbo, Taylor-Crossdale