Chelsea’s Under-18s are still without an away win in this fledgling academy season but they picked up their first point on the road with a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa on Saturday morning.
That the spoils were shared was probably a fair outcome on the balance of play, with neither side truly able to get a firm grasp on proceedings on a windy day at Bodymoor Heath. Harvey St Clair’s fifth goal in six games had given Jody Morris’ side a first half lead but a deflected free kick from Jake Doyle-Hayes ensured the hosts took something home with them too.
Morris was once again able to call upon the experienced services of Joseph Colley and Jacob Maddox, who were both on Development Squad duty a night earlier at home to Arsenal, whilst there was a return in goal for Jamie Cumming and a first Under-18 start for defender Zech Medley.
The first half lacked quality and conviction in equal measure. Jack Coates was the first to hit the target for Villa but his header was easily gathered by Cumming, and Tariq Uwakwe’s 40-yard free-kick almost caught out Swedish custodian Viktor Johansson at the other end, but it was mainly a stop-start affair influenced by an overly-officious referee.
St Clair was comfortably Chelsea’s most potent threat as he looked to make headway down the left on a regular basis. First, his cross found Maddox only for the midfielder to fluff his lines when it came to the finish, then he made a late dash into the box in an attempt to meet Martell Taylor-Crossdale’s cross but was a yard shy of connecting with it.
He wasn’t to be denied though and opened the scoring shortly before half time. Reece James picked him out with a glorious cross-field ball, and from there he did the rest, taking it down inside Coates before ripping off an unstoppable strike from the edge of the area.
Chelsea had held a lead in each of their previous away days at Southampton and Norwich this term, but their problem has been holding onto their advantage, and so it proved again here. Villa asserted themselves more after the restart and looked more dangerous as Kelsey Mooney asked sterner questions of Cumming with a 20-yarder before then having a goal correctly ruled out for offside.
Substitute Alex Prosser was thrown on to add a physical presence to the home attack and should have done better with a good chance not long after arriving, but it continued to be one-way traffic with Chelsea unable to get through midfield on a regular basis. Johansson swept up anything in his vicinity in goal and, inevitably, the equaliser arrived twenty minutes from time.
It owed a great deal to fortune – which Villa will claim they earned – but Cumming was left absolutely helpless as Doyle-Hayes’ free kick took a massive deflection to wrong-foot him and find the back of the net. Buoyed by that, they should have gone on to win it but Jozef Pastorek spurned two very credible chances at the death to let Chelsea off the hook.
The Blues now return home for a London derby versus West Ham at Cobham next weekend, and don’t leave London for a competitive fixture until the first week of November, giving them ample opportunity to establish themselves at the top of the table yet again.
Aston Villa: Johansson, Clark, Hall, Doyle-Hayes (c), Coates (Finnerty), Abdoul, Knibbs (Pastorek), Clarke, Mooney, Humphries (Prosser), Cox
Subs not Used: Idem, Williams
Booked: Coates, Clarke
Chelsea: Cumming, James, Colley, Grant (c), Medley (C.Dasilva), McCormick, Gallagher, Uwakwe (C.Brown), Taylor-Crossdale, Maddox (Castillo), St Clair
Subs not Used: Nartey, Bułka
Goal: St Clair