YOUTH REPORT: SOUTHAMPTON 0 CHELSEA 0
The youth team brought home a share of the points from their trip to Southampton as they began life in the elite group after their table-topping campaign before Christmas. In an entertaining match down on the south coast the Blues were left rueing Jeremie Boga's first-half penalty miss as they found themselves unable to break the deadlock against an impressive Saints side.
Adi Viveash fielded a familiar-looking team for the Under-18s as they played their first game of 2013, with starts for ever-presents in the first half of the campaign Jordan Houghton and Kevin Wright. Schoolboys Connor Hunte and Charlie Colkett also began the game, with Colkett alongside skipper Houghton in midfield, while Hunte was part of a fluid front four that also contained Alex Kiwomya, Reece Mitchell and Boga. Fankaty Dabo, Isak Ssewankambo, Dion Conroy and Kevin Wright (pictured) made up the defence while Mitchell Beeney was the man between the sticks.
Like Chelsea, Southampton also topped their pre-Christmas group, beating the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham to the top spot in a campaign that saw them unbeaten at home, and it was the hosts who fashioned the first chance of the game after four minutes, forcing a comfortable early save from Beeney after a period of pressure in the visitors' final third.
However the tide quickly turned and the Blues began a period of control in the match, with Saints keeper Chris Johns having to be alert to smother the ball at Houghton's feet before Kiwomya delivered a dangerous ball into the box that was eventually headed over.
The visitors had a penalty shout after 13 minutes when Mitchell tumbled down in the box though the referee wasn't interested, however he was pointing to the spot less than 10 minutes later as Houghton collided with Saints left back Fraser Colmer. With usual penalty-taker Jesse Starkey sat on the bench the responsibility was passed to Boga, whose effort smacked against the post and away with the goalkeeper beaten.
That miss seemed to only stir Chelsea further and Boga went close again after good work down the left flank by Hunte and Wright, though the Frenchman just couldn't get enough on his swinging effort from close range. Conroy then had a header from a corner comfortably saved and, after Johns set off a quick counter-attack for Southampton, Dabo had to be very clever to shield the ball away from Ryan Seager and out for a corner.
After a long period of defending the hosts were able to threaten slightly more as the half wore on and Sam Gallagher had a great chance after Chelsea lost possession dangerously from a deep throw-in. The big striker was bearing down on goal before an excellent intervention to clear behind from the covering defender Ssewankambo. Houghton then did well to get up and clear the resulting corner but the danger was not away for long and the Blues were forced into some desperate defending to keep their opponents at bay.
There were chances for Jake Flannigan and Seager as the half came to a close, with the latter doing well to beat Ssewankambo down the left touchline but just delaying his shot for too long, while Colkett hit a strong attempt straight at Johns, who gathered at the second attempt with Kiwomya lurking.
The second period failed to start at the same pace as the first had ended, with the first real opportunity coming on the hour mark and falling to Seager. The wideman capitalised on a poor kick out by Beeney and ought to have been more clinical, though Conroy did very well to get tight to him and force him into a rather tame effort in the end.
That was a warning sign for the Blues, who struggled to get started again in the second half, and another one came a few minutes later as substitute Omar Rowe flashed a good opportunity over the bar. Viveash made a substitute of his own around that same time, replacing Kiwomya with Ambrose Gnahore, and the introduction had a positive effect on the visitors' attacking intent. Gnahore beat the offside trap moments after his introduction though his double effort was charged down excellently and forced behind, before he had another effort after cutting inside from the right flank onto his left foot, which was sliced comfortably wide.
Both sides evidently felt they could snatch all three points as the game ticked towards the final quarter of an hour and Beeney had to make a very good save down low to his right to deny Harrison Reed from 25 yards. The visiting keeper was called into action a couple more times as the game swung from end to end, while for Chelsea Boga wasted a promising set-piece opportunity after Ssewankambo was tugged back just outside the box.
The arrival of Starkey brought some more purpose to the Blues' possession of the ball and the midfield man clipped a couple of inviting balls out to the left flank towards Hunte as the visitors looked for a late winner, however the best chances in the final few minutes fell to left back Wright. He burst inside from the left and enjoyed a mazy run into the penalty area before dragging a shot just wide, then fired over when placed in a great position after more excellent close interplay in and around the box.
The final whistle signalled the points would be shared and the Blues must now look ahead to a big FA Youth Cup tie at Charlton on Wednesday as they get back into the swing of things on the field.
Chelsea: Beeney, Dabo, Ssewankambo (Starkey 82), Conroy, Wright, Colkett, Mitchell, Houghton (c) (Muleba 72), Kiwomya (Gnahore 61), Boga, Hunte.
Unused subs: Killip
Southampton: Johns, Leggett, Colmer, Gape (c), McCarthy, Targett, Seager, Flannigan, Gallagher, Reed, Hesketh.