Under-18s: Chelsea 1-0 Aston Villa

For all of their remarkable exploits in recent years, Chelsea have struggled to impose themselves against Aston Villa in Under-18 football during that time. After scoring 24 times against them in three matches during the 2014-15 season, they’ve not beaten them by more than a single goal at Cobham, and only achieved the feat once in total since.

So, despite emerging with a fourth successive win to maintain their 100% start to the new season, there will be a feeling that they could and should have beaten their bogey team by more than Armando Broja’s 17th-minute strike. They had enough chances to win as convincingly as their Under-16 counterparts did, as the younger generation racked up a 10-2 triumph of their own, but they were far too profligate in front of goal, and allowed Villa to hang around too long, to the point it almost cost them.

They were almost behind inside two minutes, only for Harrison Sohna to lash over from the edge of the area after good play by Kaine Kesler, but after such a let-off they were able to establish control over the game, and take the lead with their first really clear sight of goal. It was Broja, inevitably, who made the breakthrough with a finish that told the story of a striker in form and in confident mood. A year ago, his opportunistic shot after cutting in from the edge of the area would have been blocked or deflected wide but, with the ball bouncing in his favour nowadays, he worked just enough time and space to find a way through for the fifth time this season.

His link-up play continues to come along well too; a neat exchange down the right with Valentino Livramento set another attack going but, with Dion Rankine well-placed on the middle, Livramento went alone and saw his bundled effort scrambled off the line. Minutes later, James Clark found similar space on the other flank, but Xavier Simons – on for the injured Marcel Lewis – was denied by a Villa block.

Myles Sohna, twin brother of midfielder Harrison, produced a similarly important intervention to keep Broja at bay before the break, and it was seemingly all the visitors could do to hang on to a one-goal deficit. Rankine came out for the second half in an effervescent mood, finding space close to the byline where few others could, and forcing another goal line block. He would later hit the post with the help of a sizeable deflection, but couldn’t add to the score.

Not that Chelsea had it all their way; far from it, in fact. Pushing forward in numbers, they allowed Villa the chance to catch them on the break, and Kesler did his best to punish them with a rapid burst that carried him sixty yards into the box, only to find Jake Askew in place to make a good save. As Simons and Broja missed out on chances to make the points safe at the other end, Villa upped the ante late on, and could well have taken a share of the spoils.

Paul Appiah almost made a dream return after spending two years in the Chelsea academy but mistimed his arrival to meet a corner by mere inches, and Aaron Pressley should have done much, much better with a late chance set up by Kesler but placed over the crossbar from as good a position as he could have hoped for.

Coach Ed Brand will doubtless stress the importance of being more clinical, but the Blues go into the first international break of the season level at the top of the South table with Brighton, who have also earned a maximum twelve points from twelve so far. The two teams square off in Lancing when domestic action resumes on September 14th.

Chelsea: Askew, Humphreys, McClelland (c), Colwill, Clark (Nunn 72), Bate, Livramento, Ekwah (Haigh 72), Broja, Lewis (Simons 29), Rankine
Subs not Used: Wiggett, Bergström

Goal: Broja 17
Booked: Clark

Aston Villa: Onodi, Burton, Revan, Sylla (Appiah 67), M.Sohna, Lindley, Kesler (Farr 73), H.Sohna, Pressley, Ramsey (Young 80), Philogene-Bidace
Subs not Used: Raikhy, Marschall

Booked: Lindley, Burton