Chelsea’s Under-18s spurned an early chance to clinch the Southern section title on Saturday morning after going down 2-0 away to Reading, a result that ended a thirteen-match unbeaten run.
The Blues remain three points clear with two games remaining, and have already qualified for the Elite round when the competition splits next month, but suffered a frustrating morning in Berkshire as first half goals from Axel Andresson and Joshua Barrett secured three points for the hosts.
On a less-than-ideal playing surface and accompanied by strong winds, neither team were properly able to express themselves early in the game but the hosts were able to adapt more easily and knocked the ball around at the back with control and composure.
Chances were at a premium but Reading took fill advantage of the clearest when it arrived, Andresson thumping home an unstoppable header following a corner from the right hand side to make it 1-0.
Chelsea’s response was go eventually fashion efforts on goal; Ruben Sammut’s bouncing shot wide from the edge of the area was easily the best of them whilst there were also glimmers of hope for Cole Dasilva and Ali Suljic that came to nothing.
Shortly before half time came the turning point in the game. Barrett’s high, inswinging corner looked set to be claimed by goalkeeper Jared Thompson only for it to catch an almighty gust of wind and blow back towards the target, sneaking over the line before Chelsea could scramble clear.
Facing a 2-0 deficit for the first time this season would prove a strong test of character for Joe Edwards’ side and, to their credit, they responded superbly in the second half. Reading sat back, defended in numbers and looked to break whilst making a convenient use of delaying tactics, and whilst Chelsea were able to build mounting pressure and create chances, it wouldn’t be their day.
Sammut saw a near-post header saved by Luke Southwood, who managed to hold onto the ball to deny Ugbo a rebound, and when the Reading stopper did spill a cross moments later, Luke McCormick watched on as his acrobatic flick looped agonisingly over the crossbar.
Iké Ugbo sliced wide of the near post before hitting the crossbar with a header from Mason Mount’s cross, and substitute Harvey St Clair stung Southwood’s hands with a late volley whilst going onto have a penalty shout for a high foot on his headed rebound attempt fall on deaf ears.
On another day one of those many second half moments would perhaps have gone in but it wasn’t to be and, instead, attentions now turn to a home double-header against Fulham and Arsenal to round off the Southern section fixture list before the chase for the national title gets underway in March.
Reading: Southwood, Akinwunmi, Richards, Bennett, Osho, Andresson, Frost (Chatee), East, Smith (Loader), Barrett (c), Davis
Subs not Used: Howe, Tupper, Shokunbi
Goals: Andresson, Barrett
Booked: Osho, Southwood
Chelsea: Thompson, Sterling (Taylor-Crossdale), Colley, Suljic, Nartey, Sammut (c), Maddox (Muheim), McCormick, Ugbo, Mount, C. Dasilva (St Clair)
Subs not Used: Cumming, Uwakwe