Chelsea’s Under-18s got 2019 started in dramatic fashion as they returned home with a 3-2 win at Leicester City that, despite a thoroughly dominant first half, they might not entirely have deserved.
Having romped to a 3-0 lead inside the opening fifteen minutes courtesy of a Marcel Lewis brace either side of Jack Wakely’s header, the Blues – under the leadership of Jon Harley in Andy Myers’ absence – should have been out of sight by half time, and could quite credibly have had six or seven goals to their name.
Their second half performance, on the other hand, was some way short of the required standard as Leicester mounted a stirring comeback. Dempsey Arlott-John and Justen Kranthove made it a one-goal game before the hour had been reached, and it was only due to the heroics of Chelsea goalkeeper Karlo Žiger that all three points headed back to London, an outcome that reflected harshly on the Foxes overall.
Having had three weeks to chew on a first FA Youth Cup exit in six years, the Blues (in yellow) were in no mood to mess about in a ruthless opening to the match. Lewis made it 1-0 with eighty seconds on the clock, lashing onto the top corner after gold play by Thierno Ballo, and they were hungry for more.
Wakely, without a goal before this season, headed his third of the campaign in the tenth minute when he met Ian Maatsen’s corner with a firm header, and Lewis doubled his tally minutes later with strength to hold off Dennis Gyamfi and then the technique to drill low and hard on his weaker left foot into the far corner.
It could have been even more. The relentless running of Ballo, Lewis and George Nunn in attack unsettled the hosts at every turn, and Nunn twice won possession in the Leicester area only for the move to break down at the very last. The former Crewe man tested Oliver Bosworth with a shot of his own, Lewis was perhaps selfish in looking for a hat-trick when he had teammates better positioned, and Ballo flicked one off the outside of the post.
Leicester weren’t quite shut out at the other end, Arlott-John trying his luck against Žiger early without reward, and Shane Flynn thumped a shot off the crossbar at the end of a flowing counter attack, but they looked ill equipped to deal with their illustrious opponents. Had Henry Lawrence been more clinical with a late first-half chance, they would likely have been out of hope entirely, but the moment passed, and what was to follow couldn’t have been in many people’s scripts.
There were warning signs within ten seconds of the restart, when a poor backpass gave Terell Pennant a run on goal, but Žiger made a good save away to his left. Chelsea, though, were unsettled, sloppy in clearing their lines and defending too deep, and gave Leicester the impetus to take advantage. Luke Thomas’ cross was powerfully headed in by Arlott-John and, four minutes later, Kranthove took advantage of Sam McClelland’s ill-timed stumble to crash home a Thomas corner from yep yards out. 3-2, and game on.
There was only one team in it, but Chelsea had Žiger, and they were thankful for that. He wasn’t perfect, as a short goal kick presented Will Russ with time and space to get a shot away, but he made amends at his near post and then kept Gyamfi at bay from the corner. His best, however, came when Flynn almost got lucky with a cross from the left, flying one-handed to push the ball to safety.
Russ and Flynn continued to try without finding the equaliser, and tempers flared after Arlott-John deposited Clinton Mola rather awkwardly into the wall that runs along the far side of the pitch. A booking apiece and a stern word for each captain took the sting out of the incident and, really, the rest of the match.
Leicester kept plugging away, but Chelsea were better for the introduction of Pierre Ekwah Elimby into midfield, and threatened to restore their advantage when Lewis made Bosworth work with a free kick. There was one last chance for the home side when Mola missed his kick to let Arlott-John through, but Žiger wasn’t to be denied, and the Blues ensured they kept pace with Tottenham and Arsenal at the top of the South league table.
Leicester City: Bosworth, D.Gyamfi, Thomas (c), Tavares, Elewa-Ikpakwu, Kranthove, Arlott-John, Ewing (J.Gyamfi 74), Russ, Pennant, Flynn
Subs not Used: Sams, James, Myring
Goals: Arlott-John 50, Kranthove 54
Booked: Arlott-John, Flynn
Chelsea: Žiger, McClelland, Wakely (c), Mola, Maatsen, Lawrence, Lavinier (Clark 90), Russell (Ekwah Elimby 60), Ballo (Broja 80), Lewis, Nunn
Goals: Lewis 2, 15, Wakely 9