Chelsea’s Under-18s signed off their league campaign for 2016 by ensuring they remain top of the Southern section for Christmas after defeating Norwich City 3-1 at Cobham on Saturday lunchtime.
Unbeaten since losing 5-4 away to the Canaries in August, Jody Morris’ side have been going from strength to strength in recent week, and although this was a side missing several of those likely to feature in Tuesday’s FA Youth Cup Third Round tie at home to Cardiff, they were more than a match for their Norfolk counterparts. Goals from Harvey St Clair, Conor Gallagher and Tariq Uwakwe were enough to give the Blues a healthy four-point advantage at the top of the table to take into their winter break with them.
They didn’t have it all their own way though, and took a long time to get going against a Norwich side that doesn’t tend to travel as well as they perform at home. They defended staunchly though, limiting Chelsea’s effectiveness in the final third, but were let off the hook when captain Richard Nartey contrived to sidefoot wide when meeting St Clair’s corner unmarked inside the six yard box.
Chelsea had made the switch from their usual diamond midfield to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1 setup for this clash and it looked to have affected their approach play for large passages during the first half. George McEachran and Martell Taylor-Crossdale tried from long range without success, and Gallagher had a convincing shout for a penalty fall on deaf ears as they sought a breakthrough.
St Clair eventually proceeded it shortly after the half hour mark had passed, taking a pass from the patient Taylor-Crossdale before curling it low and hard past the outstretched hand of Fergal Hale-Brown in the Norwich goal for his sixth of a productive campaign.
Taylor-Crossdale was then guilty of a glaring miss when McEachran set him clear on goal from the halfway line; the league’s leading goalscorer wanted too much time on the ball and Norwich were able to clear for a corner. It merely delayed the inevitable though, as the set piece fell to Gallagher on the edge of the area, and he was able to place an accurate low finish into the same corner as St Clair for his first youth team goal.
The second half was mainly a case of Chelsea ensuring they played out a winning performance whilst looking to add to the scoreline, something they thought they’d done when Nartey spectacularly volleyed home from a corner, only for the referee to decide there was a foul in there to rule it out.
Charlie Brown replaced Taylor-Crossdale with Cardiff in mind and there was also an Under-18 debut later on for schoolboy Jonathan Panzo, but it fell to Uwakwe to make it 3-0 with a powerful finish that squirmed away from Hale-Brown and just about trickled over the line. It was the midfielder’s second goal of the week, having also netted for the Development squad on Monday in a friendly against Nurnburg.
Jamie Cumming had been relatively quiet in the home goal, only really pressed into action to make a brilliant fingertip save to keep Alan Fleming’s header out, but he lost his clean sheet in the closing stages when he was unable to hold onto Timi Odusina’s attempt, allowing Owen Wallis to prod the loose ball home from a yard out. Norwich might also have made the scoreline more respectable at the end when Fleming hit the post and Cumming smothered the rebound, but it wouldn’t have been a fair reflection of a match they were never really in.
Tuesday, as mentioned above, now sees the Blues begin the defence of their latest FA Youth Cup crown, airy Cardiff City the visitors to Cobham. Tickets for the fixture at Aldershot are priced at £3 for adults and £1 for concessions, whilst Chelsea TV will be providing live coverage too. A full preview of the competition will appear here on Monday.
Chelsea: Cumming, James (Panzo), Nartey (c), Guehi, C.Dasilva, Gallagher, Hudson-Odoi, Uwakwe, Taylor-Crossdale (C.Brown), McEachran, St Clair (Castillo)
Subs not Used: Bułka
Goals: St Clair, Gallagher, Uwakwe
Norwich City: Hale-Brown, Aarons, Syme (Thompson-Brissett), Wallis, Ellesley (Kamal), Odusina, Higgs, Payne, Fleming, Sambu, Spyrou (Catton)
Booked: Ellesley, Payne