Chelsea’s recent seasons have typically ended in a blaze of glory but, on an unseasonably windy day in Berkshire, they brought the curtain down on a campaign of learning with more than a hint towards the promise of the future.
They might have finished without silverware for the first time in more than half a decade, but as Dion Rankine and Lewis Bate scored the goals to see them defeat Reading 2-0, the torch had been passed to those tasked with restoring the academy to the top of the pile next year.
While the Under-19s prepare for Monday’s UEFA Youth League Final in Switzerland, the younger counterparts left behind were without several regulars, and so Andy Myers picked a youthful squad that saw six schoolboys on the pitch at full tine. Two of them – Rankine and Bate – scored their first goals at this level, while debutant goalkeeper Lucas Bergström was integral in ensuring the three points headed back to Cobham.
Reading too had a rich infusion of Under-16 talent, as they have all season, and they pushed their visitors hard at time. Bergström, a 6’7″ Finnish youth international, showcased all of his ability in the first half in particular, making a string of impressive saves, none better than the one he produced with a long leg to keep out what looked to be a certain goal by midfielder Dejan Tetek.
That came with Chelsea already a goal to the good, Rankine finishing off after good work by the impressive Jamal Musiala, and Musiala himself should have doubled the lead before the break only to shoot straight at Myles Roberts in the home goal. Growing in stature throughout, the Chelsea striker might have scored later in the match, but couldn’t hook a loose ball towards an open goal after captain Jon Russell had forced a save of his own from Roberts.
Powerful winds and a heavy pitch made it a trying morning for both teams, but Chelsea handled their business better after half time, while they also looked more comfortable in the 4-3-3 shape Myers has switched to in the last fortnight. Bate put the result to bed late on when he fooled his man with a deft first touch to create the space for his shot, which he stuck high past Roberts with aplomb.
There was also time for Charlie Wiggett to make his Under-18 debut, becoming the eighth member of James Simmonds’ team to make the step up this season. They become scholars in July, and they will be determined to make sure Chelsea are back in the ascendancy in twelve months’ time.
Reading: Roberts, Elva-Fontaine, Samuels (Bristow 44), Nditi, Hewitt (Holzman 45), Dorsett, Sackey, Tetek, Melvin-Lambert (Anderson 88), Osorio, Nevers
Subs not Used: Andresson, Abretti
Chelsea: Bergström, Clark, McClelland, Simeu (Wiggett 78), Aina, Ekwah Elimby (Bate 53), Rankine, Russell (c), Musiala, Lewis, Broja (Peart-Harris 64)
Subs not Used: Simons, Askew
Goals: Rankine 21, Bate 84