Chelsea kept themselves in with a fighting chance of retaining the Southern section title in the Under-18 Premier League when they mounted a late comeback to earn a 2-2 draw against Southampton at Cobham on Saturday morning.
The Blues, under the leadership of Jon Harley while manager Andy Myers recovers from an achilles injury, weren’t at their best in a contest against a capable and well-coached Saints team, and trailed at half time through a Christian Norton goal.
Will Ferry’s second with a little more than ten minutes left looked to have secured all three points, but Chelsea trialist Ben Greenwood reduced the deficit quickly to give them a glimmer of hope, before substitute Pierre Ekwah Elimby curled in with a 94th-minute free kick to make it 2-2.
Myers and Harley made three changes from the win at Leicester the previous weekend, as Jake Askew started in goal following Karlo Žiger’s loan move to Sutton United, while wing backs Marcel Lavinier and Ian Maatsen were replaced by Valentino Livramento and Jordan Aina. Whereas the start in the Midlands seven days earlier has been rapid, it was anything but here.
Indeed, it took until the 22nd minute for either side to muster an effort of note on goal. Henry Lawrence was wasteful with that one, while Thierno Ballo was unlucky with his guided volley after good work by fellow forwards George Nunn and Marcel Lewis, but it was tough sledding against an improving and stingy Saints rearguard.
The visitors came into the match off the back of a confidence-boosting 5-1 win over West Ham, and grew in character as the half went on. Kornelius Hansen, Dan Bartlett and Ferry all found their radars lacking before Norton made the breakthrough a minute before half time. The impressive Caleb Watts linked well with Ferry down the left, leaving the latter to stand up a cross for his centre forward to head home.
They should have doubled the advantage three minutes after the restart, but Hansen’s strike was unconving and, perhaps carrying a knock, he only lasted two more minutes before Enzo Robise took over for him. With additional fresh legs in the middle of the park in Roland Idowu, Southampton looked to be in control, and kept Chelsea limited to ambitious long shots that came to nothing.
The hosts couldn’t get going, too often ponderous in possession, and lacking a creative cutting edge whenever they approached the edge of the area. Southampton, instead, looked the more likely to add to the scoresheet, and did so with twelve minutes left. Sucking Chelsea into a battle near the corner flag, they moved the ball back out and around effectively, freeing up space for Ferry to get in behind and slot past Askew for 2-0.
Game over? Not quite. The Blues were back within one four minutes later as Ben Greenwood, a young trialist on at left wing-back, followed up a fine Jack Bycroft save from Nunn to score a debut goal, and more importantly it gave them something to work with. Ballo, by now operating an an auxiliary midfielder, led the charge along with schoolboy Livramento, and was again denied by Bycroft with the clock speeding towards 90.
Norton missed a good chance early in stoppage time before a clumsy defensive foul gave Chelsea one last chance. Ekwah Elimby measured his approach to perfection, stepping up to pick out the top corner, and to steal what could be a huge point in the fight for silverware this season.
Chelsea: Askew, McClelland, Wakely (c), Mola, Aina (Greenwood 61), Lawrence, Livramento, Russell (Ekwah Elimby 82), Ballo, Lewis (Broja 67), Nunn
Subs not Used: Wady, Simeu
Goals: Greenwood 82, Ekwah Elimby 90+4
Southampton: Bycroft, Cluett (Morris 81), Ledwidge (c), Caleb Watts (Idowu 54), Agbontohoma, Tchapchet, Hansen (Robise 50), Bartlett, Norton, Fleary, Ferry
Subs not Used: Wright, Callum Watts
Goals: Norton 44, Ferry 78
Booked: Cluett, Ledwidge