A second-half goal from Charlie Brown kept Chelsea’s Under-18s six points clear at the top of the Under-18 Premier League after beating Fulham 1-0 on Friday night to kick off the first of a double-header of fixtures against their West London neighbours.
On a terribly cold evening at the Motspur Park training ground, Jody Morris’ youngsters kicked off knowing that closest title rivals Arsenal had reduced their advantage at the summit of the Southern section to just three points with a 5-1 win over Brighton earlier in the day, but a resolute performance was capped by Brown’s opportunistic 67th-minute strike and ensured the Blues go into their Youth Cup clash against Fulham in confident mood.
Tuesday’s meeting will bear little resemblance to this clash, however, with both teams taking the opportunity to rotate their squads almost entirely. It meant three schoolboys started for Chelsea – Dynel Simeu, Tino Anjorin, and Marcel Lewis – whilst Renedi Masampu made his first start since joining from Met Police last summer. Morris named a strong bench to give himself options later in the game, options he would ultimately use, and be rewarded by.
A largely forgettable first half was controlled the better by Fulham, but Chelsea were able to carve out the better chances, particularly in the core period between fifteen minutes and half time. The hosts were first into their stride but could only threaten through Ryan De Havilland’s free kick just wide of Jamie Cumming’s post, whilst the Blues should have then taken the lead when Clinton Mola failed to convert from Brown’s set-up play.
Lewis, a lively Under-16 forward enjoying just his second start at this level, grew into the game throughout the first 45 minutes, and went close to breaking the deadlock on several occasions. A free header running back to meet the ball was a hard ask for a player diminutive in stature, but he was more comfortable in demonstrating his range off either foot, twice testing goalkeeper George Wickens from a tight angle before whipping a free kick just over the bar before the break.
Many of those braving the elements thought Brown had opened the scoring ten minutes into the second half, when he redirected Jonathan Russell’s smart pass towards goal, but the ball went the wrong side of the post, and instead it was Fulham who almost nudged themselves in front when Reece York glanced agonisingly wide when attempting to reach a cross from the left.
Morris dipped into his bag of tricks with a triple substitution, bringing Martell Taylor-Crossdale, Billy Gilmour and Conor Gallagher on in one fell swoop, and his team duly took the lead seconds later. Granted, none of them were involved in the goal, but Brown was at his instinctive best to meet Marcel Lavinier’s knockdown before lashing past Wickens from close range.
Taylor-Crossdale later had a second ruled out for offside against Mola in the build-up, but the additional experience introduced by the Chelsea manager now helped his charges manage the game in the latter stages, taking full control of the contest and refusing to allow the hosts back into it. Fulham boss Colin Omogbehin by contrast only had schoolboys to call upon from his bench but one of them, 14 year-old Harvey Elliott, almost unlocked the door late on, mazily making his way towards the edge of the area only to find Simeu in uncompromising form.
Chelsea retain their six-point lead over Arsenal with six games remaining, and the two teams scheduled to square off at London Colney on March 7th. Before that, however, they’ll now turn their attentions to their FA Youth Cup Quarter Final at Craven Cottage, where tickets are on sale both in advance and on the night, priced at £4 for adults and £1 for concessions.
Fulham: Wickens, Asare, Martin, Davis, Armsworth, Garrido ©, Frei, York, Abraham (Jasper 56), De Havilland (Page 45), Tahir (Elliott 70)
Subs not Used: Schwarzer, Drameh
Chelsea: Cumming ©, Lamptey, Lavinier, Simeu, Masampu, Russell (Gallagher 67), Walters (Taylor-Crossdale 67), Mola, Brown, Anjorin (Gilmour 67), Lewis
Subs not Used: Guehi, Ziger
Goal: Brown ‘67