Chelsea kicked off the new Under-18 Premier League season on Saturday morning with a 3-2 win over West London neighbours Fulham in a pulsating affair at Cobham.
Harvey St Clair and Martell Taylor-Crossdale had given the Blues a commanding first half lead only for Jayden Harris to reduce the visitors’ arrears before the break with a lovely flighted effort. St Clair looked to have put the result beyond doubt twenty minutes from time with his second but a second Harris strike, every inch as good as his first, set up a dramatic finale in which the hosts just about held on to their victory.
In Jody Morris’ first official match in charge since being promoted as Joe Edwards’ successor, the former first team midfielder picked a slightly more experienced team than he had been able to in pre-season thanks to the presence of the likes of St Clair and captain Josh Grant, but there were still six first-year scholars in from the start for the big kickoff.
Chelsea had the ball in the net in the opening stages after a scrappy set piece but it was ruled out for an offside as something of a melee developed in the six yard box.
St Clair looked to be a man on a mission early on; fresh from a summer spent mainly with Adi Viveash’s Development Squad, he was a constant menace cutting in from the left and almost had the first goal when an inswinging cross threatened to loop in and required Taye Ashby-Hammond to intervene in the Fulham net.
He wasn’t to be denied though, eventually getting the new campaign off to a great start as he both won and scored a 25-yard free kick; expertly steering the ball over the wall and into the only place Ashby-Hammond couldn’t reach in exquisite style.
One then became two as Taylor-Crossdale scored the first of what will almost certainly be many this season. Having found the scoresheet seven times in pre-season it was a matter of time before he did so in competitive action and a ferocious finish into the top corner after cutting inside from the left proved sufficient to double the Chelsea advantage.
Had St Clair’s ripsnorter of a hit not been brilliantly tipped away by Ashby-Hammond moments later then the game could well have taken on a much different look. Instead, Fulham went down the other end and made it 2-1 when Harris opened his body to curl over Jamie Cumming and suddenly reestablish the match as a contest.
Chelsea made the better of the going after the break with Luke McCormick and Cole Dasilva wasteful from the edge of the area, whilst Taylor-Crossdale went in search of greater reward but, despite smart work by Reece James down the right on more than one occasion, the bound of the ball just about favoured the away team and the slender one-goal advantage remained.
Eventually, and decisively, a third did arrive for Chelsea and, fittingly, it was St Clair who produced the goods. Working this time from the right hand side, his initial attempt at a one-two was broken up but he was alert fastest to seize on the loose ball and drive home a low left-footed finish that Ashby-Hammond could only get a hand to on its way in.
To their immense credit, the very young Fulham side – by now having introduced two schoolboy substitutes – never gave up and the imperious Harris, their best player on the day, set up a grandstand finish with a goal even better than his first, ripping into the roof of the net from outside the box to leave Cumming with no chance.
A barrage of long balls ensued in a lengthy stoppage time period with Jayden Mundle-Smith closest to levelling with a header cleared off the line, whilst Chelsea should have been more clinical on the break several times at the death. In the end they didn’t need to be and picked up their first three points of 2016-17, heading to Southampton next weekend bidding for a strong start to another campaign.
Chelsea: Cumming, James (Gallagher), Grant, Nartey, C. Dasilva. McCormick, Brown (Castillo), Uwakwe (Guehi), Taylor-Crossdale, McEachran, St Clair
Subs not Used: Medley
Goals: St Clair (2), Taylor-Crossdale
Fulham: Ashby-Hammond, Spence (Asare), Mundle-Smith, York (De Haviland), Jenz, Opoku, Felix, Harris, Pearce, Kwietniewski, Kelly (Tahir)
Subs not Used: Lukwata
Goals: Harris (2)
Booked: Spence, Asare, Harris