Chelsea’s Under-18s rounded off their Southern stage fixtures in style on Saturday morning as they recorded an impressive 3-0 win away to West Ham at Little Heath.
The Blues – who are Southern champions for a third successive season – now go into Merit Group One for the national title and do so after goals from Luke McCormick, Tariq Uwakwe and Cole Dasilva secured a fifth successive win, whilst a tenth clean sheet in eleven outings merely served to underline the consistently high level of performance overall.
Jody Morris made four changes to the team that began last weekend’s remarkable 13-0 victory over Brighton, bringing Jonathan Panzo, Reece James, George McEachran and Jamie Cumming into the fold, whilst leading goalscorer Martell Taylor-Crossdale was a substitute along with Charlie Brown, who netted four in the rout of the Seagulls.
West Ham knew a win would punch their ticket to join Chelsea in Merit Group One but the opening exchanges were scrappy on a heavy pitch and in the face of high winds left behind by Storm Doris. Harvey St Clair’s missed header at the far post represented Chelsea’s best moment, whilst a short backpass by Marc Guehi looked to have played Jahmal Hector-Ingram in for the hosts only for Cumming to intervene in a timely manner.
A series of corners for the home team tested the Blues’ defensive resolve, although Jeremy Ngakia’s wasteful finish shortly after did not, and it was Chelsea who then looked the more dangerous. Juan Castillo neatly brought McCormick’s cross-field ball under control before drawing Rihards Matrevics into a save, and Panzo saw a header blocked from the ensuing corner.
St Clair finished the half on the ascent, finding Dasilva and Uwakwe for chances neither could take, but a half time breather and words from Morris quickly sorted things out as they established a lead two minutes after the restart. It arrived slightly fortuitously as a penalty was awarded for a coming together between McEachran and defender Reece Hannam, but McCormick stepped up to score for the seventh time this season and make it 1-0.
West Ham’s response was to replace defender Hannam with a forward in Yiannis Constantinou, and the newcomer almost made an immediate impact when his cross provided Hector-Ingram with a near-open goal, a chance he could however not take full advantage of, instead steering his finish wide.
It was a pivotal moment in the course of the match, for Uwakwe soon made it 2-0 with a goal of the season contender. McEachran’s header teed up a bouncing ball 30 yards from goal, the sort that just begs to be hit, and Uwakwe – who was disappointed not to have scored against Brighton – duly obliged, crashing a dipping finish in via the crossbar to draw gasps from the crowd whilst leaving Matrevics absolutely helpless to stop it.
Guehi should have made it three when given a free header six yards from goal only to nod straight at the goalkeeper, and Taylor-Crossdale would surely have converted a one on one had it not been his first touch off the bench for McCormick, but 3-0 did arrive twenty minutes from time with another sublime goal, this time a nifty passing move started and finished by Dasilva, who claimed his third goal of the season whilst wearing the captain’s armband from McCormick.
Cumming showed sure hands to hold onto another shutout at the back, and there were late chances for St Clair and Taylor-Crossdale to add further gloss to the final scoreline, but the win sets a new points high for Chelsea in the EPPP era whilst ensuring their unbeaten run since August goes on.
Joining them in Merit Group One are Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers from the North, plus Arsenal and Reading from the South, with the final spot going to one of West Ham, Fulham or Tottenham, with Fulham holding their destiny in their own hands.
Each team faces the other once, home or away, in March and April to determine the national Under-18 title winners. Fixtures should begin in a fortnight, with several regional stage clashes still to take place.
West Ham United; Matrevics, Eggleton, Hannam (Constantinou), Mingi, Akinola, Alese, Ngakia, Johnson, Hector-Ingram, Henry, Scully.
Subs not Used: Watson, Forde, Rosa, Spyrides
Chelsea: Cumming, C.Dasilva, James, Guehi, Panzo, McCormick (c) (Taylor-Crossdale), Uwakwe (Jameson), Gallagher, St Clair, McEachran (Brown), Castillo.
Subs not Used: Bułka, Russell
Goals: McCormick (pen), Uwakwe, Dasilva