Chelsea’s Under-18s extended their unbeaten run at home to 959 days on Friday night as they edged a narrow 1-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at Cobham in the Under-18 Premier League.
Squaring off against the Seagulls for the second time in a fortnight, the Blues were guilty of wasting a number of good chances on a cold November night where they should have won more comfortably, and it eventually took a free kick from Billy Gilmour ten minutes from time to ensure they collected all three points.
Jody Morris made three changes from the team that won 3-0 at the AMEX Elite Performance Centre back at the start of November; injury deprived him of ever-present centre-back Jack Wakely and so Marcel Lavinier deputised, and there were also starts for Nicolas Tié and Jonathan Russell in place of Karlo Ziger and Tariq Uwakwe respectively.
Brighton’s last visit to Cobham in February had seen them suffer a 13-0 defeat and, such was Chelsea’s start to the match, they could have been forgiven for thinking they were going to be up against it once again. Charlie Brown helped himself to four on that occasion and should have had a pair inside the first five minutes here; first up he pushed a right-footed shot wide of the far post after breaking through on goal, before then winning and missing a penalty as Brighton goalkeeper Thomas McGill went from zero to hero in fouling but denying the Blues’ hitman.
Marc Guehi saw a header skim the top of the crossbar from the ensuing corner, and Chelsea continued to mount substantial early pressure. Conor Gallagher – like Guehi, a recent Under-17 World Cup winner – was proving a powerful and effective influence in midfield, but consistently lacked the required finish when bursting into advanced positions, whilst Guehi later had another sight of goal come to nothing.
Brighton had struggled to get a foothold in the game; indeed, it was often enough just to take the sting out of their hosts’ attacks, but when they were able to get forward they managed to carve out two very good sights of goal. Isaac Hutchinson was guilty of wasting the first of those when he volleyed Mamadou Kone’s cross over, and late in the first half Stefan Ljubicic headed back across Tié’s goal only to find Guehi on the line to clear his lines.
Morris introduced Juan Castillo for Brown at half time in a change of shape to 3-4-2-1, and the general theme of the contest continued upon the resumption of the game. Guehi got his head to Gilmour’s inswinging free kick but McGill was untroubled by it, and after a bunch of blue shirts were involved in a goalmouth scramble, Lavinier thundered a strike wide as the ball sat up invitingly for him to hit.
However, whilst they were able to come up with regular chances, Chelsea’s overall play was on the sloppy side, and they were indecisive in front of goal throughout. Daishawn Redan found useful pockets of space but looked to pass rather than shoot, as did George McEachran on two second-half occasions when a shot would have been the better course to take.
It took a moment of magic from Gilmour late on to separate the two sides; the Scottish midfielder stepped up to score a lovely free kick from the edge of the area after schoolboy substitute Faustino Anjorin was fouled. Anjorin himself almost added a late second when trying to direct Tariq Lamptey’s cross back towards goal, but one goal would ultimately prove to be enough, as Brighton only threatened late on when Teddy Hoare tried his luck with a 30-yarder that Tié watched sail wide.
The Under-18s return to action next weekend at home to West Ham, whilst the Development Squad take on Tottenham Hotspur in Premier League 2 on Saturday morning.
Chelsea: Tié, Lamptey, Lavinier, Guehi, Panzo, Russell (Anjorin 67), Gallagher ©, Gilmour, Redan, McEachran, Brown (Castillo ’45)
Subs not Used: Masampu, Ziger, Mola
Goal: Gilmour ‘80
Brighton: McGill, Morrisom, Kone, Shihab, Eden-Clark, Roberts, Hutchinson, Araujo (Hoare 65), Ljubicic (Ferguson 78), Cashman (Longman ’68), Cochrane
Subs not Used: Tutt, Bentley