Another Chelsea Under-18 season is off and running as the young Blues recorded a 3-1 opening-day win at Southampton on Saturday morning.
Having previously come unstuck on the South Coast in each of their last two visits, the fixture looked to be a particularly tricky one to kick things off with when the schedule was released a month ago, but a resilient performance saw then emerge victorious.
Late first half goals from Tino Anjorin and Thierno Ballo gave them a platform they were able to use to assert their authority, whilst George Nunn came off the bench to clinch the three points early in the second half. A late consolation denied them a clean sheet but it was a winning start for Andy Myers in his first match in charge of the group.
Myers is replacing Jody Morris after two all-conquering years at the helm, and he blended together a nice mix of first and second years in his first team selection. The hosts, always a tough proposition at this level, were bedding in five new first-year scholars of their own, and it made for a closely-fought contest early on.
Chelsea were the brighter of the two teams in patches, with plenty of time and space for Marcel Lewis and James Clark to explore, but real incident of note was in short supply. The Saints were content to retain a compact shape and deny their visitors space, and it was forward Christian Norton who set the tone with a hard-working and committed performance that deserved more than it often yielded.
Indeed, it took a good block by Jack Wakely to keep him from testing Karlo Žiger in goal, and as the first half wore on it looked more likely that a Southampton goal would come first. Chelsea, though, responded well, and a Clinton Mola strike was well saved by Jack Bycroft before Lewis fizzed over from the edge of the box.
Having seized the initiative back, this time they made good on it. Anjorin won a penalty seven minutes before half time after he was clumsily fouled by debutant Allan Tchapchet, and he picked himself up to confidently despatch the spot kick high into the roof of the net for 1-0.
Had Southampton been able to go in at the break just a goal down, things might have been different, but they switched off again three minutes later, and once more paid for their mistake. Referee Nzenga allowed an advantage that too many in red and white were unprepared for, which Jon Russell seized upon by flicking a ball over the top of the defence for Ballo to run on to. He best Bycroft to the ball, the goalkeeper far from convincing in his efforts to win possession back, and the Austrian forward in blue had the simple task of making it 2-0.
Kornelius Hansen was an occasional bright spark for Paul Hardyman’s boys, going close either side of the half time whistle, but it was a match of almosts from their perspective. Had Dan Bartlett converted a free header from six yards out just before the break, or had Norton’s endeavour been adequately supported, Chelsea might have found themselves in a bit more bother.
As it was, Lady Luck shone on them instead. Nunn, on as a substitute for the injured Ian Maatsen, took a matter of minutes to make his presence felt just before the hour mark. His first touch was a delightful backheel to release Armando Broja but, after a tackle brought the ball back into his path, his second was to lash the ball high into the top corner to settle the contest.
Russell hit the crossbar and Anjorin slammed a shot into the face of Tchapchet, who made a brave block, before both players were replaced in favour of the fresher legs of Henry Lawrence and Dynel Simeu. Southampton claimed a late consolation when Kayne Ramsay, once of Chelsea, got the final touch on Norton’s header from a corner, and they deserved something from the game, but the points rightly went home with Chelsea.
Southampton: Bycroft, Ramsay, Morris, Bartlett (Watts 68), Agbontohoma, Tchapchet, Robise, Brennan (c), Norton, Hansen (Smales-Braithwaite 64), Ferry
Subs not Used: Ledwidge, Wright, Kozak
Goal: Tchapchet 87
Chelsea: Žiger, Clark, Lavinier (c), Wakely, Maatsen (Nunn 54), Russell (Lawrence 72), Lewis, Mola, Broja, Ballo, Anjorin (Simeu 80)
Subs not Used: Askew, J. Aina
Goals: Anjorin 38 (pen), Ballo 41, Nunn 55