Chelsea’s Under-18s overcame a shaky first half display to run out emphatic 4-1 winners over Southampton at Cobham on Saturday morning.
The Blues were uncharacteristically sloppy in the opening 45 minutes and deservedly found themselves trailing to Michael Obafemi’s goal, but with their long unbeaten home record in peril, they responded well after the restart and, inspired by schoolboy Callum Hudson-Odoi, they were able to seal a comprehensive victory to remain top of the Southern section.
Returning to action after an international fortnight in which several academy players were away representing their countries, it was an attacking lineup selected by Jody Morris including three changes from the side that beat Brighton last time out. Marc Guehi came into the defence for Richard Nartey, Luke McCormick missed his first match of the season to accommodate birthday boy Tariq Uwakwe in midfield, and Harvey St Clair returned in attack with Charlie Brown dropping to the bench.
Chelsea would have been looking to avenge a disappointing 3-2 defeat in the first meeting of the two teams back in August and started well, St Clair striking the crossbar with a curling effort at the end of a mazy run which deserved a goal. The visitors’ response came in the form of Harry Hamblin’s scorching long-range try which sailed over Jared Thompson’s crossbar, but it wasn’t long before they opened the scoring.
They did so through an opportunistic and well-taken finish by Obafemi from six yards out as Chelsea failed to defend a cross from the right. And, whilst they were able to conjure up numerous first half goalscoring chances, the Blues were generally sloppy in possession and too slow in their decision-making, which accentuated Southampton’s positive work ethic and energetic high press.
Hudson-Odoi dragged a shot wide at the end of a long run, Uwakwe drew Adam Parkes into a good save with a low drive, and both McEachran and St Clair had set pieces come to nothing; the latter coming closest of all when Parkes had to tip over from right under his own crossbar. Grant headed over from a corner and St Clair had a late first half effort saved at the near post, but the goalmouth action belied a below-par display.
That changed in the second half, and Hudson-Odoi had much to do with it. He pounced to equalise with a finish from a tight angle after Parkes had spilled St Clair’s not long after the game had resumed, and two minutes later it was his devilish cross from the right that teased Christoph Klarer into turning the ball into his own net from close range.
At 2-1 up, the hosts could now begin to control the game themselves, although they had Guehi to thank for an important block to prevent Tyreke Johnson from capitalising on Thompson’s misplaced clearance. Parkes was the busier of the two goalkeepers though, doing well to divert Taylor-Crossdale’s dig away for a corner, before then being powerless to do anything to stop Hudson-Odoi’s glorious cross, instead being a relieved spectator as Taylor-Crossdale couldn’t quite connect with the delivery.
It took substitute Brown to put the contest to bed in the closing stages with a smart brace. The first came moments after his arrival and finished off a move of clinical efficiency. Hudson-Odoi pinged an inch-perfect ball out to Reece James, who in turn whipped over a first-time cross for Brown, who couldn’t miss. Then, with a minute to go, a slip by defender Connor Langan allowed Hudson-Odoi to race away on the break; he squared to give Brown his second and fifth of the season to extend the Blues’ recent unbeaten run to eight games.
They take that record to Fulham next weekend, but the Development Squad are up before them as they too welcome Southampton to Cobham this Monday, in a match you can watch live on Chelsea TV.
Chelsea: Thompson, James, Guehi, Grant (c), C.Dasilva, Uwakwe, Gallagher, McEachran, Taylor-Crossdale (Brown), Hudson-Odoi, St Clair (Castillo)
Subs not Used: Nartey, Cumming, McCormick
Goals: Hudson-Odoi, Klarer og, Brown (2)
Southampton: Parkes, Davis, Langan, Rowthorn (Bradley-Green), O’Driscoll, Klarer (Thomas), Hale, Hamblin, Obafemi (Afolabi), Smallbone, Johnson
Subs not Used: Osborn, Gardner
Booked: Klarer, Rowthorn