Throughout Chelsea’s recent successful seasons at academy level, the first few matches haven’t always laid a marker for what was to come. The odd hiccup early in the campaign has been a bit of a common feature and so, for Ed Brand’s latest crop of youngsters to come out of their first three matches with nine points, including trips to Arsenal and Southampton, is a very encouraging sign for the months ahead.
It wasn’t easy in sweltering South Coast conditions here; Saints were happy to defend in numbers and keep the score down after conceding seven goals across their opening two defeats, and asked Chelsea to break them down. They did several times, only for their finishing to let them down, but Lewis Bate found a way through with a scorching goal midway through the first half to ensure all three points returned back up the M3 to Cobham with them.
Armando Broja has been one of the stars of the August schedule so far, taking his fine summer of goalscoring form into the new season, and scoring braces against both Arsenal and West Ham in the past fortnight. He should have added to that tally here, notably twice in the first quarter of an hour, but saw his first try saved by Ollie Wright before slicing his second wildly wide after robbing Pascal Kpohomouh of possession on the edge of the Southampton penalty area.
That was where the Blues largely set up camp for long spells; moving the ball around, looking to bring Valentino Livramento and Levi Colwill into the game from their wing back positions, and patiently wait for the door to open. When they struggled, they turned to shots from distance, and while that failed to pay dividends overall, it did bring them the only goal of the match in the 22nd minute. Bate measured his options and, with the red and white defence almost encouraging him to shoot, he duly obliged with a fizzing, rasping effort that crashed into the top corner.
That should have forced Paul Hardyman’s team to open up and produce an attacking threat of their own in response, but it never arrived. Jayden Smith ploughed a lonely furrow against three Chelsea defenders in attack, and wingers Marco Rus and Ramello Mitchell spent more time chasing and closing down than they did with the ball.
Broja continued to work hard without reward, missing an open goal from close range early in the second half as he arrived half a step too late to convert Livramento’s cross, and even when he did find the target later on, Wright repelled him, just as he did Henry Lawrence earlier in the half. Jake Askew was positively unbothered at the other end, having the opportunity to top up his sun tan as the thermometer touched 30°, and he didn’t have a save to make all day.
Roland Idowu bundled wide on the break as Southampton mustered one proper attack, led by Smith, but it was Chelsea who racked up the chances – and misses – right up to the very end. A comical goalmouth scramble ensued with Wright struck by cramp, and although there were no goals there, substitute George Nunn should have made the scoreline a more handsome one when he got a stoppage-time header all wrong after more good work by the impressive Lawrence.
Nevertheless, they remain 100% after three wins, and share the Premier League South summit with Brighton ahead of welcoming Aston Villa to Cobham next weekend.
Southampton: Wright, Cluett, Morris, Bailey, Agbontohoma, Kpohomouh (Turner 49), Keogh, Watts, Smith, Rus (Olaigbe 76), Mitchell (Idowu 66)
Subs not Used: Hall, Bellis
Chelsea: Askew, Simeu (c), McClelland, Humphreys (Clark 76), Colwill, Bate, Livramento (Ekwah Elimby 67), Lawrence, Broja (Nunn 81), Lewis, Rankine
Subs not Used: Wady, Simons
Goal: Bate 22