The week started with disappointment against a team in blue and white stripes, but Chelsea ended it, and their season, in more positive fashion by beating a very good Brighton team wearing the same colours 2-1 in Lancing to bring the curtain down on the 2018-19 academy campaign.
A third UEFA Youth League title eluded the group last weekend, as their titanic tilt against Barcelona in Friday’s Semi Final took its toll and made the Final against Porto one step too far on a road they’d already exhausted themselves in taking, but to regroup for one last hurrah away to one of the Premier League 2’s chief title protagonists required the same spirit and resolve that took them to Nyon in the first place.
There were changes, both in formation and personnel, but the core of Joe Edwards’ team remained the same, and they were able to battle to three points that saw them finish sixth out of twelve teams, a few goals shy of overtaking Blackburn in fifth, a credible ending for a young squad shorn of so much loaned out experience.
Jamie Cumming, Richard Nartey and Tariq Ukwake all came back into the fold, and each would have a part to play in the victory, while there was also a start for trialist Darius Johnson as Chelsea consider one or two different options for the Development Squad next season. He took his place on the left side of the attack in a shape that looked to be more 4-3-3 than 4-2-3-1, but enough of a departure from their usual 3-5-2 to be noteworthy.
Brighton, a team full of talent and experience that pushed Everton all the way in the race for the PL2 title, looked as authoritative and capable as you might have expected in the early stages, but it was Chelsea who proved the greater threat in front of goal. Daishawn Redan had already rattled the woodwork from long range by the time Nartey headed them into a 23rd-minute lead, but they were to fall victim once again to a familiar enemy. Themselves.
Having conceded shortly after scoring in both matches out in Switzerland, they were at it again here, allowing Brighton to restore parity within three minutes through Ryan Longman, who had the composure to finish smartly after Chelsea had failed to clear a set piece.
The flip side to conceding those goals is that they almost always had an answer in return, and so it proved here again just before half time. Billy Gilmour claimed a second corner assist when his delivery ended up in the back of the net via Seagulls defender Ben Hall, with Nartey again taking some of the credit for his aerial presence.
An unseasonably torrential downpour at the break made conditions a little more challenging in the second half, but Nartey and Marc Guehi continued to defend their box superbly, and had Gilmour or Charlie Brown taken either of their half-chances, the game might have been over as a contest.
Instead, for as long as the lead remained a narrow one, Brighton had hope. Longman was thwarted by Cumming at his near post before the Chelsea stopper pulled off one of the saves of the season to deny substitute Dan Cashman, a stunning reaction save to a twice-deflected effort. He was beaten from the ensuing corner, but found a yellow-clad colleague on the line willing to bail him out.
He’d earned it, and Chelsea had earned their win, a ninth in the league to bookmark their nine defeats. Another respectable showing in the Checkatrade Trophy to go with their UEFA Youth League exploits mean that, although there was no silverware at the end of it all, they can hold their heads high after ten months of hard work, sweat and tears, and lessons learned to take with them as they start to look forward to the next step.
Brighton: Sanchez, A.Davies, Cochrane, Sanders (c), Hall, O’Hora, Ahannach, Molumby, Gyokeres, J.Davies (Cashman 79), Longman (Radulovic 74)
Subs not Used: Tomlinson, Collings, Kazukolovas
Goal: Longman 26
Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey (Colley 87), Nartey, Guehi, Castillo, Gilmour, Uwakwe, McCormick (c) (Anjorin 68), Redan, Brown, Johnson (Lavinier 68)
Sub not Used: Žiger
Goals: Nartey 23, Hall 43 og