January didn’t quite go to plan in the league for Chelsea’s Under-18s, but they made sure February got off to a much better start, as they beat Southampton 2-0 at a wintry Cobham on Saturday.
Goals either side of half time courtesy of Dynel Simeu and Thierno Ballo proved enough to see off a stubborn but ultimately limited Saints team that were more about damage control than anything else. It was a measured and well-managed performed from the Blues, and a much-needed one after consecutive league defeats away to West Ham and Aston Villa.
Indeed, this was their first match at Cobham since drawing with Arsenal on January 4th and, although a pair of FA Youth Cup wins came at home in between, they were at Aldershot rather than the creature comforts afforded at their home base, where they are unbeaten since last April.
They played with the confidence that being back in terra firma often provides, and might have been ahead after just 25 seconds, but the woodwork denied Dion Rankine after good work by Valentino Livramento. Myles Peart-Harris missed the rebound, but otherwise linked up well with Marcel Lewis in the early stages, and only a goal-line clearance from Pascal Kpohomouh prevented that combination from unlocking the Southampton defence.
It took until the half hour mark for Chelsea to break through and, when they did, it owed much to a moment of quality from Lewis Bate. He claimed his eighth assist of the season with a volleyed cross into the box where Simeu, a Southampton boy, sprung the visitors’ offside trap and glanced a header beyond the reach of Matthew Hall in goal.
Hall, a former Blue himself, had a busier time of things after the break, as Chelsea took full control of the game. They had, until then, limited the Saints to few moments of interest, but completely shut things down in the deck f half. Ballo doubled the lead when he followed up Hall’s save from Lewis after Southampton lost possession playing out of defence, and there were good chances for Xavier Simons and substitute Charlie Webster that, on another day, would have added a deserved gloss to the scoreline.
Fulham’s win at Reading maintained their lead on goal difference at the top of the table, with the Blues’ West London neighbours enjoying a game in hand too. The title race continues in three weeks at home to Brighton, but the Youth Cup is up next, as Wolves come to town in the Fifth Round on Monday 10th February.
Chelsea: Askew, Livramento, Wiggett, McClelland (c), Simeu, Bate (Nunn 80), Rankine (Vale 60), Simons, Ballo, Peart-Harris (Webster 60), Lewis
Subs not Used: Humphreys, Wady
Goals: Simeu 29, Ballo 58
Booked: Bate, Livramento
Southampton: Hall, Payne (Tshaka 80), Bailey, Callum Watts, Kpohomouh (c), Tizzard, Smith (Woods 61), Turner (Saunders 44), Mitchell, Defise, Rus
Subs not Used: Wright, Kaba