Chelsea’s Under-18s remain unbeaten this season, but saw their 100% start come to an end away to Brighton on Saturday morning, with the Seagulls enduring the same fate at the end of a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
Both teams came into the match with four wins from four so far this term; the hosts topped the table by virtue of having a superior goal difference, but the promise of a fascinating top-of-the-table clash lived up to its billing on a weekend where the two clubs also squared off at Under-23 level, as well as in the Women’s Super League.
Armando Broja’s sixth of the season put the Blues ahead shortly after half time, only for the stocky substitute Lorent Tolaj to equalise with twenty minutes to play. The late dismissal of Chelsea’s Xavier Simons led to a frantic finish in which Brighton in particular should have won it but, on balance, that the spoils were shared was the right result.
Everything, including the weather, really started to heat up after a first half Chelsea dominated without every really gaining the upper hand. Dynel Simeu, Joe Haigh and Sam McClelland all had good chances to open the scoring, while Lucas Bergström was sharp and alert to make his only save to deny Stefan Vukoje in response. Ed Brand’s boys enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, led by the terrific Lewis Bate, but all too often failed to find penetration in the final third.
That changed in a heartbeat just after the interval. Sixty-seven seconds had passed by the time Valentino Livramento stormed down the right and picked out Broja, who poked home from close range to make it 1-0.
Yet, every time they thought they had a grip on proceedings, fate intervened against them. Haigh, busy from first to last, smashed over from a good position before Broja was forced off through injury. Having already lost Dion Rankine to a knock of his own, it forced something of a reshuffle, and gave Brighton a way back into the game.
Bergström was needed to turn Todd Miller’s cross-shot onto his crossbar and, while Haigh tried a virtuoso effort in reply, the home team came in strong. A particularly combative and hard-working five-minute spell yielded a reward when Pierre Ekwah was robbed of possession far too easily in the middle of his own half, allowing Marc Leonard to feed Tolaj, and he did just enough to find a way past Bergström’s long arms.
As both teams upped the ante, things grew fractious, and Simons was shown a straight red card for a two-footed tackle on Bobby Copping. Neither player gave an inch in a fifty-fifty that the Chelsea man got wrong, and referee Peter Lowe got right, and he was also right to call a foul by George Nunn on goalkeeper Adam Desbois when Haigh thought he’d restored the lead moments later.
Brighton should have won at the very end when Ben Wilson found time and space on the left twice in as many minutes, but failed to take advantage on both occasions. The first owed a lot to Simeu’s rapid recovery to intervene, but the second should have resulted in a shot rather than an effort to find Tolaj, and so the chance, and all three points, went begging.
Chelsea will head home satisfied with a point in Che context of the ninety minutes, but will also be disappointed to have dropped their first points of the campaign. They welcome Reading to Cobham next weekend.
Brighton: Desbois, Tanimowo (Tolaj 58), Packham, Tsoungui (c) (Offiah 79), Copping, Turns, Miller (Wilson 71), Leonard, Leahy, Vukoje, Furlong
Subs not Used: Bull, Dackers
Goal: Tolaj 70
Booked: Tsoungui, Leonard
Chelsea: Bergström, Simeu (c), McClelland, Humphreys, Colwill (Clark 69), Bate, Livramento, Simons, Broja (Ekwah 59), Rankine (Nunn 45), Haigh
Subs not Used: Askew, Wiggett
Goal: Broja 47
Sent Off: Simons