Chelsea’s 26-match unbeaten run at Under-18 level came to an end on Saturday morning as they were beaten 2-0 by Manchester City at the City Academy Stadium.
Tom Dele-Bashiru’s first-half goal and a late stoppage-time second from Taylor Richards proved enough to earn all three points for the hosts in the Merit Stage of Under-18 Premier League competition despite a missed penalty by Reece James, but neither team played anywhere near their best as they met for the first time of three this month ahead of another FA Youth Cup Final.
Ten days shy of their clash on the big stage, it wasn’t quite a dress rehearsal in Manchester as several of those expected to figure prominently were absent, but both teams fielded a number of players likely to make notable contributions as the two meet in the showpiece occasion for a third year running.
Chelsea were captained by Jacob Maddox and made just one change from the side that beat Manchester United last weekend – Luke McCormick replacing Conor Gallagher – whilst Manchester City handed a debut to Argentinian forward Benjamin Garre, after receiving international clearance, in a side full of latin flair in the form of Iker Pozo, Lorenzo Gonzalez and Ian Carlo Poveda alongside him.
A sun-drench morning awaited them but there was no shortage of high-tempo football in the opening exchanges, leading to plenty of mistakes and possession quickly swinging back and forth. City had the better of the chances as Garre beat Joseph Colley for pace only to see his cross cleared by Marc Guehi, whilst Phil Foden went one better and produced a teasing delivery from the same left side that required Juan Castillo to intervene before Poveda could apply the finish.
Chelsea’s response came through George McEachran, who drew the giant figure of Arijanet Muric in the home goal into his first save of the day from the edge of the area, but they couldn’t prevent the hosts from taking the lead shortly after the quarter of an hour mark when Dele-Bashiru picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and fired a low strike beyond the reach of Jared Thompson and into the bottom corner.
Callum Hudson-Odoi was amongst the more threatening players in Chelsea blue throughout the first half and had two or three half-chances quickly snuffed out, most notably cutting inside from the left flank and asking more of Muric, but the chances weren’t as clear-cut as City’s, and had Foden converted in very similar fashion to Dele-Bashiru just before the interval, the game might well have been out of the Blues’ reach there and then.
McEachran led the charge as the second half got underway, almost releasing Martell Taylor-Crossdale before then winning a penalty after being fouled by Joe Coveney. With Conor Gallagher not involved after twice converting from the spot last time out, and with Luke McCormick handing over duties following his miss at Tottenham a month ago, it was James who stepped up but saw his attempt well saved by Muric to keep the scoreline 1-0.
Gonzalez then almost destroyed the frame of the goal with a ripsnorter of a strike from 30 yards out that left Thompson with no chance, the post saving him instead, and Guehi helped out Colley as the Swiss forward continued to prove a nuisance on the counter attack with Chelsea pouring more and more men forward in search of the elusive equaliser.
Half-time substitute Tariq Uwakwe tried to add to his growing collection of spectacular goals with a 25-yard blast that Muric dealt with well, and Tariq Lamptey was thrown on for his Under-18 debut to add more trickery and flair to the mix. He produced two smart dribbles in as many minutes to carry a decent threat, whilst Hudson-Odoi and Taylor-Crossdale found time and space but not the finish when well-placed centrally. The game was up when Richards followed up Bobby Duncan’s shot four minutes into stoppage time to seal a 2-0 victory for the home team.
Chelsea were held off the scoresheet for just the second time all season, ending a long run without suffering a defeat dating all the way back to September’s 5-4 reverse away to Norwich. The boys will now regroup over Easter before returning to action at the same venue on April 18th in the First Leg of the Youth Cup Final.
Manchester City: Muric, Frimpong, Coveney, Francis (c), Wilson, Pozo (Ogbeta 88), Poveda, Dele-Bashiru, Gonzalez (Duncan 72), Foden, Garre (Richards 80)
Subs not Used: Rosler, Scott
Goal: Dele-Bashiru ’16, Richards ‘90+4
Booked: Coveney, Wilson
Chelsea: Thompson, James, Colley, Guehi, Castillo, McCormick (Uwakwe 45), C.Dasilva (C.Brown 87), Maddox (c), Taylor-Crossdale, McEachran (Lamptey 81), Hudson-Odoi
Subs not Used: Cumming, Jameson