Chelsea’s Under-18s all but secured top spot in the southern section of the Barclays Under-18 Premier League on Saturday after recording a narrow 1-0 victory over Fulham at Cobham.
Miro Muheim’s solitary strike means Joe Edwards’ side are now six points clear of Reading in second place and, whilst the Royals have two games remaining to Chelsea’s one, the Blues have a +15 goal difference superiority to effectively claim the southern title for the second year running.
The game was an exceptionally hard-fought affair played out in vicious winds that affected the quality of play from both sides. It made the simplest of things unpredictable and the direction of the blusters ensured each team had a half largely in the ascendancy.
Chelsea won the toss and opted to start with it on their side, establishing an early control of possession and territory. Mukhtar Ali watched an early side-footed effort hit the foot of the post and there were several other moments that ultimately came to nothing as Fulham couldn’t get out of their own half.
Muheim drilled a testing strike from distance into the waiting arms of goalkeeper Magnus Norman and both he and Charlie Wakefield looked lively on the flanks in Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 formation, but they weren’t able to find a first half breakthrough. It had at least been a relatively simple introduction to Under-18 football for their debutant schoolboy goalkeeper Jamie Cumming though, with only a blocked Mikolaj Kwietniewski effort to even come close to threatening.
It was a different story after the restart however, with Fulham now enjoying the wind at their backs. Kwietniewski showed his capabilities again with a whipping shot just wide before Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson had one bravely blocked by the excellent Ali Suljic.
Wakefield tried his luck with a volley that bounced teasingly across the face of goal without getting a touch but Chelsea then managed to steal ahead just after the hour mark. Iké Ugbo showed tremendous work ethic to close down Jerome Opoku and rob him of the ball before holding it up to allow Muheim to take over. The Swiss stormed towards goal before settling himself and steering a shot into the far corner to make it 1-0.
Fulham introduced Harrison Paton and Elijah Adebayo from the bench – the latter a centre back being employee as a makeshift striker – but it was Chelsea’s own substitute that came closest to further affecting proceedings. Jacob Maddox had only been on for Ali for a few moments before he prodded over the bar following Ugbo’s latest effort.
Ugbo himself had the best chance to put the result beyond doubt when Dujon Sterling won a penalty for a foul by Mattias Kait as he weaved his way into the box, but the Blues’ leading goalscorer saw his spot kick well-saved by Norman to set up a tense finale.
Chelsea defended manfully despite the best efforts of Fulham, with full-backs Ryan Sessegnon and Marlon Fossey a consistent danger, and Cumming didn’t have one real save of note to make such was the work put in by those ahead of him. Isaac Christie-Davies might have added a second late on only to miss the target but they can now look forward to hosting Arsenal next weekend needing a point to ensure they progress into the elite eight as table-toppers.
Before then, however, a trip to AFC Wimbledon is in order on Tuesday night as the Fifth Round of the FA Youth Cup rolls around. Tickets for the tie at Kingsmeadow are still on sale but selling fast; if you can’t make it then the match will be shown live on #ChelseaTV and covered throughout on Twitter @chelseayouth.
Chelsea: Cumming, Colley, Suljic, McCormick, Sterling, Sammut (c), Wakefield (Nartey), Ali (Maddox), Ugbo, Christie-Davies, Muheim (St Clair)
Sub not Used: C. Dasilva
Fulham: Norman, Fossey, R. Sessegnon, Jenz, Opoku, Nabay (c) (Paton), Kait, O’Riley, Walker (Adebayo), Kwietniewski, Thorsteinsson
Subs not Used: Soutter, Thomas, Davies
Booked: Opoku, Paton