Chelsea’s penultimate Under-21 match of 2015-16 saw a young side travel north to Manchester City and come away from the Etihad Stadium with a hard-earned 1-0 victory.
Despite giving up plenty to their opponents on paper, they proved more than a match on the mitch in a game that was wide open for long stretches before tightening up late on, but substitute Charlie Colkett pounced for an opportunity winner five minutes from time to send the visitors back to London with all three points.
With Tammy Abraham, Kasey Palmer and Fikayo Tomori left behind for first team training duties, Adi Viveash’s travelling party was even more inexperienced than in recent fixtures with several others ‘running on empty’ according to the Blues’ coach. Charlie Wakefield, Ruben Sammut and Isaac Christie-Davies each continued taking fledgling steps at this level whilst Iké Ugbo earned his first Under-21 start of the season, with the likes of Jay Dasilva, Ola Aina and Fankaty Dabo the older and wiser heads by comparison.
Six of the Chelsea starting eleven had featured in the FA Youth Cup Final against City a fortnight earlier with only Tosin Adarabioyo and Isaac Buckley able to say the same from a home team that featured plenty of players well-versed in Under-21 football. They looked it in the early stages too as Brandon Barker and George Glendon made good gains on the left without taking advantage of their opportunities, and then Dion Conroy and Brad Collins were required to intervene to prevent either Bersant Celina or Sinan Bytyqi from opening the scoring.
The visitors, wearing all black, had struggled to earn possession in the first quarter of an hour but had displayed an enthusiastic zeal for pressing and attempting to win the ball back, so it came as no surprise that they began to grow into the game. Josi Quintero led the way and might have had a goal had he not slipped at a most unfortunate moment, and two good chances fell to Ruben Sammut, not a player known for his goalscoring prowess, as the finishes would attest to.
Mukhtar Ali did a fine job of knitting things together in midfield for Chelsea and had their best moment of the first half when he linked well with Christie-Davies only to scuff a shot eventually tipped wide by Angus Gunn, but it offered further encouragement to this young team that they were able to compete with more seasoned young pros.
Dabo’s excellent tackle late in the half closed the door on Celina and Adarabioyo did the same to Quintero moments later to leave things all square at the break, then things continued in the same manner after a twenty-minute breather. Wakefield’s excellent cross between Gunn and his defenders demanded an appropriate finish but Quintero just couldn’t quite get there to oblige before Adarabioyo wasted a free header from a corner in response.
Dabo went off injured after an hour after pulling up twice in quick succession and debutant Josh Grant was joined by Jacob Maddox, who slotted in at right wing-back in place of the man he replaced in Wakefield, and things settled down for a while. Simon Davies’ home side might have felt they should’ve taken the lead with just over twenty minutes left when Bytyqi had time and space on the edge of the area but he too proved profligate in front of goal, whipping wide of the far post, but at that stage it was a fleeting glimpse of goal in a game that faded just as quickly as the two sets of players.
Bytyqi, the most likely man in blue to provide a decisive spark, drove into a good position with ten minutes left but Collins was there again to deny him with a strong hand, and an important one too as it allowed Colkett to score the winner shortly afterwards. A patiently-constructed move down the right saw Maddox cross towards Ugbo, who showed strength and desire to shrug off Adarabioyo and win possession for long enough to allow the substitute to sweep past Gunn from eight yards out.
Solid late defending late on led by Conroy and Aina saw things out for Chelsea, who now go into their final match of the season away to Leicester on Thursday morning knowing a win will take them above Man City and into fourth in the league, a feat which would represent a tangible reward for a transitional season at this age group and, like this result, will go down very well indeed with Viveash.
Manchester City: Gunn, Horsfield, Adarabioyo, Bryan, Angelino, A.Garcia (Kongolo 70), Buckley (Nemane 54), Bytyqi, Celina, Glendon (c), Barker
Subs not Used: Oliver, O’Brien, M.Garcia
Chelsea: Collins, Wakefield (Maddox 59), Dabo (c) (Grant 59), Conroy, Aina, Sammut, Quintero (Colkett 70), Ali, Ugbo, Christie-Davies, J.Dasilva
Subs not Used: Baxter
Goal: Colkett ‘85