Under-18s: Chelsea 4-3 Fulham

Fortress Cobham hasn’t quite been as impenetrable this season as in previous campaigns, but Chelsea signed off their home schedule for 2018-19 with a 4-3 win over Fulham that was more impressive than the final scoreline suggested, and ensured that they will finish third behind Arsenal and Tottenham in the Under-18 Premier League South table.

In a wide-open contest that encouraged both teams to attack, the score could easily have been 8-4, but instead the two West London neighbours settled for seven goals and plenty of engaging football. George Nunn led the way with a brace for the Blues, while Marcel Lewis and Thierno Ballo also found the net in the first half, the latter on the end of one of the team goals of the season. Timmy Abraham – Tammy’s brother – kept Fulham hanging around long enough that Fabio Carvalho’s stoppage-time free-kick made things interesting, but it would have been harsh in the extreme had Chelsea not taken all three points from this one.

Coming into the weekend on the back of their worst run of form and worst home run without winning for more than seven years, there was work to be done, but positivity to build upon after a good effort in defeat against Spurs earlier in the week. Andy Myers injected some youthful vigour into the side in the form of schoolboys Lewis Bate and Dion Rankine, and both produced to positive effect, Rankine in particular a constant menace up and down the right flank in just his second start at this level.

Nunn has come along rather handily in his first season at the club, following his arrival from Crewe Alexandra a year ago, and played a part in the game’s first goal in addition to grabbing two of his own. He was pushed rather crudely in the back by new Fulham signing Luca Murphy when trying to meet a cross, and Lewis stepped up to beat Luca Ashby-Hammond from the penalty spot.

Fulham had started fairly well themselves, and saw Fabio Carvalho go close inside the opening two minutes, but rather than find themselves ahead, they were 2-0 down after a quarter of an hour. Nunn, putting himself in the right place at the right time as he often does, was the beneficiary of enterprising and aware play by captain Thierno Ballo, playing in a deeper midfield role again.

Indeed, the Austrian looked remarkably at home in that area of the pitch and, after Rankine and Armando Broja had gone close, he was front and centre at the end of the best moment of the match. Rankine and Henry Lawrence combined to tremendous effect down the right, Lewis laid the ball off to the edge of the area, and Ballo opened his body to steer gloriously into the roof of the net for his team-leading tenth goal of the season.

Abraham replied with the first of two goals that each owed something to a fortunate bounce of the ball, but Chelsea deserved to be further ahead on the balance of first-half play. That wasn’t quite the case after the restart, and the visitors were unfortunate not to be at least one goal closer to parity, after substitute Terry Ablade thumped a free header wide from six yards out before Sonny Hilton’s perfectly-executed 25-yard volley was acrobatically tipped over by Nicolas Tié.

Nunn put the result beyond doubt with his second a quarter of an hour from time, a deflected finish after Rankine had claimed the assist his performance deserved. His partnership with Lawrence – playing as a right-sided centre-back – was at the heart of everything good the home team did on the day, and there was little Fulham could do to stop them. They also struggled against the muscular determination of Broja, who put in a full shift up front alongside Nunn, but lacked the little bit of luck that would have given him the goal his performance warranted.

Abraham did continue to get the luck though, beating Tié for a second time with seven minutes to go, and when the Frenchman flew out of his goal deep into stoppage time to challenge Ablade, Fulham had one more chance. Carvalho’s dead-ball effort found its way through a rather flimsy wall to give Chelsea cause for concern at the very end, but they saw the win over the line, and can now look forward to the Easter break before travelling to Reading at the end of the month to finish off a disappointing year overall, yet one that has far from lacked promise.

Chelsea: Tié, Lawrence, Simeu, Ekwah Elimby, Aina, Bate (McClelland 84), Rankine (Clark 87), Ballo ©, Nunn, Lewis (Simons 71), Broja
Subs not Used: Askew, Haigh

Goals: Lewis ‘8 (pen), Nunn ’15, ’74, Ballo ‘28
Booked: Lawrence, Tié

Fulham: Ashby-Hammond, Asare, Odutayo, Page (Ablade 45), Murphy (Parkes 84), McAvoy ©, Carvalho, De Havilland, Abraham, Hilton, Jasper
Subs not Used: Earle, Tiehi, Benjamin

Goals: Abraham ’33, ’83, Carvalho ‘90+4
Booked: Hilton