Chelsea returned to Under-18 Premier League action for the first time in three weeks with a resounding 4-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion in a match that also saw new 17 year-old Norwegian forward Bryan Fiabema make his debut for the club.
Myles Peart-Harris scored twice, once in either half, while Marcel Lewis and Dion Rankine also got in on the act in a performance that saw the Blues dominate in every phase of play and, despite a slightly slower start, they were fully deserving of three points that temporarily took them back to the top of the South league table.
Having exited the League Cup away to Stoke last weekend with the season’s youngest team, Chelsea were back to something like their familiar league best here, aided by the return of a host of players who have had plenty of Development Squad involvement this season, even if they haven’t quite graduated fully yet. Lewis was joined by Valentino Livramento and Thierno Ballo and their added experience showed throughout, while Xavier Simons captained the team a day after his 17th birthday, a milestone marked by his signing of a maiden professional contract.
Brighton could have taken the lead twice inside the first five minutes – following a delayed start due to the accidental overuse of sprinklers suturing the pitch – but the break of the ball didn’t quite go their way, and Chelsea were able to thank their blessings accordingly. It took them a little while to settle, perhaps perturbed by the twenty-minute wait for kick-off, but Livramento led the way with some dynamic play down the right that all too often went unrewarded.
The opening goal then came down the other side just short of midway through the half, and it owed much to Ballo’s quality. Playing as a centre-forward on this occasion, he collected a pass inside from the flank, and having pinned Luca Cocoracchio before receiving the ball, he spun the Brighton man with his first touch. Now in a shooting position, he found Roco Rees equal to his attempt, but Peart-Harris was in place to clean up the rebound from a few yards out.
Ben Wilson ought to have done better with a chance of an equaliser soon after the half-hour mark, but he side-footed wide from the edge of the area, and was soon made to pay. Chelsea doubled their lead five minutes before half time when Lewis’ corner made its way in at the near post, apparently without anyone having touched it on the way. The set piece had come about after really impressive approach play between Lewis and Lewis Bate, the former having been denied by an Ed Turns block, but he got his goal moments later nonetheless.
Keen to assert their authority, they piled on the pressure before the interval, and it took former Chelsea schoolboy Antef Tsoungui to deny Ballo when the Austrian lobbed Rees having sprung the offside trap; the Seagulls’ skipper acrobatically hooking the ball off the line at the last.
Despite a double change at the break, Brighton’s fortunes scarcely improved, and the game was over seven minutes into the second half. Bate, orchestrating from deep, picked a beautiful reverse pass to release Livramento in the box, and his cut-back found Peart-Harris, who bundled home his second from close range despite the attentions of Tsoungui.
Rankine made it four in the 62nd minute as the Blues patiently probed for a way through Brighton’s high defensive line, waiting for Lewis to eventually pick the lock, and Rankine raced away to provide the end product he had frustratingly lacked throughout the night. Impressive right up until the end on so many occasions, it was a goal his overall performance had thoroughly warranted.
That was the cue for Fiabema to make his first Chelsea appearance, four days after penning his own professional contract, and although the game was well over as a contest he was keen to get involved and was denied a potential goal by the linesman’s offside flag. Bate came the closest to making it a five-star showing with a pair of late corners that were almost wind-assisted straight into the goal, but the three points were enough to see the Blues leapfrog Fulham back to the league summit, at least for 24 hours. Their West London neighbours have two games in hand, the first coming away to Southampton on Saturday morning, and all Ed Brand’s boys can do is to keep the pressure on before the big head-to-head at Motspur Park in late April.
Before then, however, is the FA Youth Cup Quarter Final at home to Millwall this Thursday. Tickets are on sale now to Season Ticket Holders and Members at four per person, priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Chelsea: Askew, Livramento, Wiggett, McClelland, Humphreys, Bate, Rankine, Simons © (Elliott 53), Ballo, Peart-Harris (Fiabema 68), Lewis (Ekwah 80)
Subs not Used: Wady, Nunn
Goals: Peart-Harris ’19, ’52, Lewis ’37, Rankine ‘62
Brighton: Rees, Tanimowo, Furlong (Spong 45), Turns (Vukoje 45), Cocoracchio, Tsoungui ©, Leonard, Packham, Wilson, Everitt, Leahy (Miller 64)
Subs not Used: Clark-Eden, Talley
Booked: Packham, Spong