Chelsea’s Under-21s were knocked out of the Premier League Under-21 Cup on Wednesday night as, despite dominating most of the match against holders Southampton, they failed to take advantage of their scoring opportunities and were made to pay for it by a solitary Ryan Seager goal.
The Blues were entering the competition at the last 32 stage but, having not entered last season, they were unable to make progress, leaving them eliminated as they were two years ago at the hands of Arsenal in a Quarter Final clash as it was then.
More than half of Southampton’s starting eleven have played at least once for the club’s first team, including defender Matthew Targett and England international Fraser Forster in goal for the first time in ten months following a serious knee injury, and it was a strong Chelsea team named by Adi Viveash for the trip to the South Coast looking to avenge a 3-1 defeat suffered at Stamford Bridge back in August.
He wasn’t able to call upon the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina or Bertrand Traore, but Kasey Palmer, Charly Musonda, Charlie Colkett and Tammy Abraham were all present and correct, whilst there was also a maiden Under-21 appearance for 16 year-old Swedish defender Joseph Colley.
The young Blues commanded almost full control over proceedings in the first half, keeping the hosts penned inside their own half for long stretches, but a breakthrough refused to come. Led by the mercurial talents of Palmer and Musonda, they teased, probed and at times looked to simply force their way through, but without reward. Palmer started with a pair of long-range strikes that missed the target before showing clever awareness to fashion a chance for Musonda, who followed suit with a wayward effort.
Not to be outdone, Colkett was happily dictating things from his usual position deeper in midfield whilst also being tasked with set piece duty. One particularly devilish inswinger of a delivery found the head of Jake Clarke-Salter, but the intervention of Jack Stephens – who spent last season on loan at Swindon Town – meant Forster was yet to be called into action on his playing return.
When he was, he caused himself a momentary embarrassment before recovering well to keep out Abraham and then Reece Mitchell after initially flapping at Kevin Wright’s cross from the left wing. Chelsea retained possession and quickly crafted another opening for Palmer, but his attempt to steer home with his left foot was blocked for a corner.
Palmer’s deftness of touch and willingness to produce moments of magic in key areas then unlocked the Southampton defender for young Mukhtar Ali breaking forward from midfield but, once again, a red and white shirt intervened at the very moment Ali was about to apply the finish. With several chances having come and gone, Southampton were able to keep their visitors on their toes at the end of the first half when they emerged from their shell to pose an attacking threat of their own. Seager carried the charge but Jake Hesketh had the clearest sight of goal, slotting just wide of Brad Collins’ right-hand post.
They did the same soon after the restart too; Sam McQueen turning away from Wright out wide and haring towards goal with options, but his finish lacked both accuracy and conviction. With a far greater purpose about them, however, they took the lead in the 52nd minute when Seager collected the ball on the edge of the area, wriggled his way through Colley and Clarke-Salter before rounding Collins and tucking away with an accomplished finish.
Viveash introduced Alex Kiwomya in relief of Ali on the hour mark in search of a greater attacking impetus and was almost rewarded within thirty seconds of his arrival. The newcomer robbed Saints substitute Joshua Debayo of the ball on the Chelsea right and picked out a peach of a cross, met on time by Palmer, but the volley bounced inches wide with Forster beaten.
Turning the screw once again, the pressure continued to grow on the home goal yet the equaliser was still proving elusive. Palmer came as close as anyone in Blue on the evening when he danced his way into a shooting position with twenty minutes remaining only to be denied by a save of genuine Premier League class from Forster, and Abraham’s header from the ensuing corner proved rather much easier for the big goalkeeper to pluck out of the night sky.
Abraham, Musonda and Palmer were each frustrated once again as the clock ran down and then, in stoppage time, the clear-cut chance Chelsea had waited for fell to the man they’d want it to fall to, but Abraham couldn’t make good on Clarke-Salter’s perfect cross from the left, sliding and hooking his shot wide from three yards out.
They’ll look to pick themselves back up before travelling to Tottenham Hotspur next Monday evening in a match you can watch live on Sky Sports as well as on Chelsea TV. Before then, the Under-18s return to league action this Saturday with their own clash against Spurs, this time at home at Cobham.
Southampton: Forster, Gape (c), Targett (Debayo 45), Reed, Jones, Stephens, McQueen (Olomola 85), Little, Seager, Hesketh, Sims
Subs not Used: Lewis, Johnson, O’Connor
Goal: Seager ‘52
Chelsea: Collins, Tomori, Colley, Clarke-Salter, Wright, Colkett (c), Mitchell (Christie-Davies 82), Ali (Kiwomya 61), Abraham, Palmer, Musonda
Subs not Used: Thompson, Quintero, Suljic