Chelsea’s Under-18s recorded their first away win of the season on Friday night as they beat Brighton 3-1 at a chilly Lancing training ground.
A stunning opener from Martell Taylor-Crossdale, his eleventh of the campaign, set the Blues on their way, and although Dan Cashman equalised shortly before half time, the visitors emerged with all three points courtesy of further strikes by Richard Nartey and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Coming into the match with a decent run of recent form to their name, Chelsea would have targeted this as their best opportunity to pick up their first victory on the road at either Under-18 or Development Squad level this term, and Jody Morris kept faith with much of the side that beat Leicester last weekend. Reece James and Cole Dasilva came into the back four with Joseph Colley and Marc Guehi dropping out, whilst Conor Gallagher started in place of Tariq Uwakwe having replaced him from the bench against the Foxes.
Both sides took a little while to adjust to playing under the floodlights in such frigid conditions, with each far more accustomed to Saturday morning fayre, and the early exchanges saw little more than speculative half-chances come and go. That changed emphatically, though, when Taylor-Crossdale opened the scoring with a blockbuster of a shot from 30 yards out which crashed into the top corner, leaving Tom McGill helpless in the Brighton goal.
He might have doubled his tally shortly afterwards after a neat one-two with Jacob Maddox but this time slid his shot wide, but Chelsea weren’t having it their own way entirely. Brighton were keen to asset themselves – often too much, as bookings for Rian O’Sullivan and Max Sanders would attest to – but they were also impressive in the pressing game, which began to pay dividends towards the end of the first half.
Jared Thompson had barely been tested beyond having to swat away a teasing cross from O’Sullivan but, three minutes before the break, he was beaten by Cashman’s accurate header low into the corner for an equaliser that owed everything to a sumptuous cross by right-back Archie Davies.
Chelsea had encountered similar frustration at giving up a lead on their travels at Southampton, Norwich, Aston Villa and Tottenham, but their response at the start of the second half was far more encouraging here. Confidently playing the game on their terms, Charlie Brown drew McGill into a near-post stop after being denied by an Owen Moore tackle, and Josh Grant headed just over in a strong passage of play.
Brighton still carried a threat through the powerful midfield running of Sanders and Aaron Connolly, the latter wastefully shooting straight at Thompson with better options ahead of him, and the game was truly in the balance when Nartey hit the angle of post and crossbar with an improvised effort from a corner.
Morris was the first to dip into his options from the bench, and it was his changes that ultimately swung the contest in Chelsea’s favour. George McEachran was first on and it was from his inswinging free kick that Nartey restored the lead with a brave diving header, and the next newcomer, Hudson-Odoi, duly put the game out of sight with a wonderful solo goal; dropping his shoulder to draw his marker into making a mistake, then breaking away from him before steering a smart finish beyond the reach of McGill for 3-1.
Undeterred, Brighton kept working hard to try to mount another comeback, but Grant and Nartey stood strong at the heart of the back four, and there might have been additional goals on the break for both Maddox and McEachran only for each to run out of space, whilst Reece James’ cross nearly caught McGill out at the very end.
The win takes Chelsea top of the Southern section by virtue of West Ham and Arsenal not playing until Saturday, but it also ensures that they remain very much in the mix to qualify for the Elite stage of the merit group when the competition splits in March. They return to action in a fortnight, when Southampton are the visitors to Cobham.
Brighton: McGill, Davies, O’Sullivan, Barker, Balogun, Moore, Cochrane (Hutchinson), Sanders, Cashman (Longman), Mandriou, Connolly
Subs not Used: Ferguson, Bentley, Ljubicic
Booked: O’Sullivan, Sanders
Chelsea: Thompson, James, Nartey, Grant (c), C.Dasilva, McCormick, Gallagher (McEachran), Castillo (Uwakwe), Taylor-Crossdale, Maddox, C.Brown (Hudson-Odoi)
Subs not Used: Cumming, Guehi
Goals: Taylor-Crossdale, Nartey, Hudson-Odoi