Chelsea’s Under-18s maintained their 100% record at Cobham this season with a 1-0 win at home to West Ham United on Saturday morning, but it was a game of two halves heavily influenced by the officials.
Having controlled long spells of the first forty-five minutes, Iké Ugbo’s opportunistic opening goal had given the Blues a lead they had fully warranted and set the tone for more to come. That was, at least, until Dujon Sterling was sent off for picking up a pair of yellow cards in the space of ten seconds for dissent; decisions not in keeping with how other similar incidents during the match were handled.
That ensured a nervous last twenty minutes for the Blues as they faced up to the best that the Hammers could throw at them, but with imperious defending from Josh Grant and Trevoh Chalobah, they saw the narrow scoreline through to a successful conclusion.
Recent Under-17 international action deprived manager Jody Morris of several of his regulars but, with no Development Squad fixture for a fortnight, he was able to draw upon the experienced figures of Ugbo, Chalobah, Sterling, Jacob Maddox and captain Mason Mount as they stepped down from Adi Viveash’s group for some much-needed playing time.
Their presence, combined with West Ham’s comparatively young side, suggested the hosts would make much of the going on their own patch, where they are unbeaten for more than two years. So it proved in the early moments as both Mount and Martell Taylor-Crossdale did well in wide areas only to be denied by goalkeeper Sam Howes.
Howes carries quite the reputation as one of England’s finer prospects with the gloves and, in rather wet and therefore testing conditions, he proved himself up to the task of dealing with most that was asked of him. He gathered Mount’s 25-yard try with confidence but was then left helpless to prevent Chelsea taking the lead as, despite rushing out to beat Taylor-Crossdale to a through ball, he watched on as Ugbo gathered the rebound and tucked gleefully into his unguarded net from the edge of the area.
West Ham’s approach had been to set up with ten men behind the ball and just Jamal Hector-Ingram in attack, asking Chelsea to find a way through their congested rearguard. For the most part the hosts approached their task well, retaining possession and moving the ball purposefully whilst probing for an opening. Half-chances came and went for Mount and Taylor-Crossdale but they grew sloppier towards the end of the half, less precise with the ball, and it allowed Mark Phillips’ away side to come out of their shells a little and threaten once or twice from set pieces.
Chelsea began the second half still on top but everything changed when Sterling had a little too much to say to the referee and was sent off for a pair of cautions which were acquired during the same talking-to. It seemed particularly harsh, not least when a West Ham player was let off with the very same offence moments later, but the Blues now had to see out a challenging final half an hour a man light.
Reece James replaced the energetic Luke McCormick to slot in at right-back and Conor Gallagher was thrown into the mix for Harvey St Clair, who before going off saw a goal disallowed before then spurning a golden opportunity to put the result beyond doubt. Charlie Brown, also off the bench, was denied from close range but, as the game went on, West Ham poured forwards looking for an equaliser.
They had little by way of clear opportunity though; Conor Coventry planted one just over with an instinctive snap-shot and there were glimpses for Ben Johnson and Korrey Henry rather wastefully not taken, but with Grant and Chalobah rock-solid at the heart of the defence able supported by Mount’s tireless work in midfield, Chelsea saw out a narrow 1-0 win which keeps them at the business end of the South table heading into the international break.
Chelsea: Cumming, Sterling, Grant, T.Chalobah, C.Dasilva, McCormick (James), St Clair (Gallagher), Maddox, Ugbo, Mount (c), Taylor-Crossdale (C.Brown)
Subs not Used: Bułka, Uwakwe
Booked: Mount, Sterling
Sent Off: Sterling
West Ham: Howes, Eggleton (Hamilton), Longelo, Coventry, Akinola, Wells, Johnson, Lewis, Hector-Ingram, Powell (Henry), Scully (Barrett)
Subs not Used: Constantinou