Chelsea’s Under-18s made it a hat-trick of Southern section league titles on Saturday morning as they came away from Leicester City with a 3-0 win.
First half goals from Martell Taylor-Crossdale and George McEachran established control of proceedings and a late Luke McCormick penalty ensures a third straight season topping the Southern table for the Blues, who will now prepare for the Elite stage of merit group competition, where the top four sides in each section congregate to determine a national champion.
Ahead of a trip back to Leicester on Wednesday for an FA Youth Cup Quarter Final, Jody Morris fielded a strong team but one without several more experienced faces, and handed a full Under-18 debut to England Under-17 defender Jonathan Panzo. Richard Nartey captained the side whilst there was a return from injury for Tariq Uwakwe in midfield.
Despite the bitterly cold conditions, Chelsea’s start was red-hot and they were a goal to the good inside ten minutes. McEachran won a free kick on the edge of the area, one which Taylor-Crossdale stepped up to drill low and hard to beat Cameron Yates in the home goal. It was his third successful free kick of the season and 16th overall, extending his lead as the league’s leading goalscorer.
It was the highlight of a dominant first half an hour, with chance after chance falling their way. Taylor-Crossdale almost doubled his tally when turning Reece James’ cross just wide, whilst Sim Thandi was needed to prevent Juan Castillo from converting a far post tap-in after good work by Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Uwakwe then had the ball in the back of the net only for the linesman’s flag to halt his celebrations in what was a dubious offside call, and James rattled the foot of the post as things began to resemble a training session somewhat. The inevitable second goal did arrive though, and it came from McEachran, who was on hand to prod home for the third game in a row after James’ cross had only been half cleared.
He too then had a goal disallowed for offside, this time correctly, and Yates had to be sharp to keep Hudson-Odoi out just to keep the half time scoreline respectable. The second half was a generally quieter affair though, as Leicester came out a more spirited and determined group keen to make amends for their first half showing, and Chelsea were happy to keep things in check and conserve some energy ahead of Wednesday’s cup tie.
Chances eventually came their way again though, Conor Gallagher steering just wide of the post from the edge of the area, and Castillo showing smart feet to create space for himself before an eventual shot was closed down.
A mistake by Panzo handed Leicester their best chance of grabbing a consolation as it allowed midfielder Morgan Brown to bear down on goal unchallenged, but his hesitancy gave Nartey enough time to hurry back and make an excellent block to keep Jamie Cumming from having to even make a notable save on the day.
Nartey himself was involved in the third and final goal, winning a penalty following a dangerously high challenge on him from a corner. Substitute and newly-professional McCormick took the responsibility and dispatched the spot kick confidently past Yates to secure the Southern crown, but the aim now will be to muster a better showing in the Elite stages than they have been able to in the last two years.
Before then, however, the FA Youth Cup takes centre stage again with another date against the Foxes in the last eight. That one takes place at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday, with tickets available to buy on the door, and live coverage throughout on Chelsea TV.
Leicester City: Yates, Thandi, Ughelumba, Brown, Heaven, Templeton, Hodby, Dewsbury-Hall, Edwards-John, Leshabela, Tee (Gill)
Subs not Used: Harrison, Fielding, Gruno
Chelsea: Cumming, James (Jameson), Nartey (c), Panzo, C.Dasilva, Gallagher, Hudson-Odoi (Brown), Uwakwe (McCormick), Taylor-Crossdale, McEachran, Castillo
Subs not Used: Bułka, Lavinier
Goals: Taylor-Crossdale, McEachran, McCormick (pen)