Chelsea’s wonderful Under-18 season came to a disappointing close on Saturday morning as a young team fell to a 3-0 defeat away to Blackburn.
Daniel Butterworth’s first-half hat-trick proved their downfall as the demands of a hectic schedule took its toll on the group as a whole, but with many of the next generation earning important minutes and valuable experience, a number of positives can be taken away from the match as the boys head into their summer holidays.
International duty denied coach Joe Edwards of five of his key players whilst the previous night’s Under-21 fixture also took several more experienced heads out of the equation, leaving him to field a youthful starting eleven featuring five schoolboys and a first appearance at this level for England Under-16 defender Zech Medley. The likes of Nathan Baxter, Josh Grant and Iké Ugbo provided the experience whilst Marc Guehi, Reece James, Tariq Uwakwe and George McEachran all got more time as they approach the beginning of their scholarships in the summer.
As they were last Friday at home to Liverpool, the Blues were somewhat slow out of the blocks, understandable at this stage of a long campaign and especially so for the Under-16s less than 48 hours removed from a testing friendly away to Cambridge United. They were made to pay for their slow start too as Tre Pemberton offered fair warning with a pair of wayward attempts before Blackburn opened the scoring.
They did so through hat-trick hero Butterworth, an Under-16 picked up after he was released by Manchester United at the turn of the year. He did well to square up Grant and shift it onto his powerful left foot before ripping an unstoppable finish beyond Baxter and into the far corner. He repeated the trick eight minutes later to make it 2-0, this time drilling low and hard into the near post from the edge of the area as Chelsea tried and failed to clear from several Rovers advances.
Chelsea brightened up a little thereafter and might have felt hard done by not to have been given a clear chance of getting back into things when Ugbo was denied a clear penalty for a trip by home captain Tyler Magloire, but they did manage to fashion some chances too. Uwakwe’s curling long-ranger was expertly tipped over by Ben Ascroft and, from the ensuing corner, Guehi’s volley took a deflection only just wide of the post.
They continued to come forward with confidence but found that luck was also against them. A dazzling turn in the penalty area by McEachran opened the door for Ugbo, but his attempt to bundle the ball over the line was scrambled clear and James watched as his follow-up was deflected onto the woodwork.
Butterworth then spurned an early chance of completing his treble with a header into the side netting but, after Pemberton had also missed in a far more egregious manner after good work by Stefan Mols, he got the job done in first half stoppage time. It came from his right foot this time, collecting the ball in space and sweeping home beyond Baxter with Chelsea’s numbers stretched defending a swift counter-attack.
With little option but to go for broke, Edwards threw on Martell Taylor-Crossdale for Medley ahead of the restart to bolster his attacking options, and it almost paid immediate dividends when he linked well with McEachran before a goal-bound shot spun away for another corner. Maddox and Guehi each might have done better with presentable chances shortly afterwards as Chelsea looked a more purposeful outfit.
Harvey St Clair and Malakai Hinckson-Mars joined the fray but the Blues couldn’t grab the goal that would’ve given them the impetus to mount an unlikely comeback. McEachran and Taylor-Crossdale looked lively and always able to make something happen but the final touch wasn’t quite there, and with time against them frustration set in with one or two minor spats developing with Blackburn players.
Baxter prevented Doyle from opening up a greater lead and McCormick did similar in hooking off the line to keep Magloire out, but they were rare moments of Blackburn attacking endeavour in a half where they understandably focused on maintaining their healthy advantage. Taylor-Crossdale went close again with a turn and shot that was blocked and St Clair whipped one just over to leave the Blues goalless and pointless at the end of a season where both have been a rarity.
It was only the fourth defeat of another stunning campaign for this age group, one in which they retained the Southern section title, went unbeaten at home dropping just four points throughout, and won a third consecutive FA Youth Cup. Congratulations to each and every one of the players, to the departing Edwards and his assistant Jody Morris, who will take charge next season, and the entire academy staff as a team for another job very well done indeed.
Blackburn Rovers: Ascroft, Makinson, Williams, Grayson, C. Doyle, Magloire (c), Pemberton (Wright 90), Mols, Steer, Curran, Butterworth (Jones 59)
Subs not Used: Campbell, Evans
Goals: Butterworth ’14, ’22, ‘45
Booked: Pemberton, Magloire
Chelsea: Baxter, James (St Clair 60), Guehi, Grant (c), Medley (Taylor-Crossdale 45), McCormick, McEachran, Uwakwe (Hinckson-Mars 60), Ugbo, Maddox, C.Dasilva