YOUTH REPORT: CHELSEA 1 ASTON VILLA 1
A second-half strike from Reece Mitchell earned Chelsea Under-18s a draw at Cobham this afternoon (Saturday).
The visitors had taken the lead midway through the first half through Harry McKirdy, however after Dylan Forth, the Villa goalkeeper, was sent off after half an hour, the young Blues managed to fight back and secure a point thanks to Mitchell's excellent equaliser (pictured top).
Adi Viveash made seven changes from the side that ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at Arsenal last weekend, deciding it was time for his younger contingent to be tested against the best in the league. Jon Muleba continued at centre back, this time supported by George Brady in the middle and with Isak Ssewankambo and Jay Dasilva at right back and left back respectively. Brad Collins came in for his sixth start of the season in goal.
Charlie Colkett started in midfield alongside Charly Musonda and Mitchell, while Ambrose Gnahore and George Cole supported striker Dominic Solanke from out wide.
The visitors started the brighter side, fashioning opportunities for themselves in possession and forcing mistakes from their opposite numbers in blue as Viveash's boys attempted to play out from the back in their usual manner. Villa's high pressing up the pitch and in significant numbers made it difficult for Chelsea to move the ball effectively, and both Musonda and Colkett were dropping too deep inside the opening 10 minutes in search of possession.
Jerell Sellars had the game's first shot on goal, forcing Collins into a routine save down low and central, before the game finally ignited after a quarter of an hour. Collins managed to scramble a dipping, dangerous effort around the post before a quick break down the Chelsea right was initiated. Cole advanced past the full back and provided a dangerous centre towards Solanke, the young striker selflessly laying the ball back to the supporting Gnahore, whose low effort on goal was blocked on the line by Kevin Toner.
Dasilva then had to be alert down the other end as Kevin Strain moved towards goal, and the defender positioned himself well to block the midfielder's effort behind for a corner. However it was from the resulting set-piece that Villa took the lead.
A powerful header from the edge of the box from an outswinging delivery was too strong for the backtracking Collins to hold on to, and McKirdy was on hand to prod the loose ball over the line from a yard out.
Villa were buoyed having grabbed the lead and continued to hassle the hosts into errors. Khalid Abdo forced a save from Collins after benefiting from one such steal of possession deep into the Chelsea half, before injury forced an early change for the hosts as Colkett was replaced by Mukhtar Ali.
Musonda then had a free kick deflected through the wall but comfortably gathered by Forth, before Cole was presented with an opening after loose play in possession from Kodi Lyons Foster. The wideman's touch as he bore down on goal was too heavy and the chance quickly disappeared.
With the hosts slowly working their way into the game, there was a flashpoint just after the half-hour mark. Muleba (pictured below) drove out from defence and fed in Solanke with an excellent ball forward.
The young striker span cleverly in behind the defence and raced towards the loose ball, with Forth charging out of goal from the opposite direction. The goalkeeper was beaten to it and could do little to prevent himself crashing into the forward, thereby earning himself an immediate red card for denying the Blues a clear goalscoring opportunity.
The resulting free-kick was fizzed towards the top corner by Cole and forced a very good save from the replacement goalkeeper Charlie Bannister. Musonda picked up the following short corner and fired an effort inches over the bar.
The goal had reinvigorated the young Blues and the advantage in manpower enabled them to find more time and space in forward areas. Cole (pictured below) cut in from the left and shot straight at Bannister before, in a warning sign that 10-man Villa were still a threat, Sellars sliced a chance just wide of the near post following a clever free kick routine.
Chelsea ended the half in the ascendancy but their ball retention needed improvement after the interval.
The hosts restarted after the break where they had left off, though Viveash made a couple of changes in personnel and a switch in formation for the second half. Ruben Sammut and Fikayo Tomori replaced Ssewankambo and Brady in defence as the manager went to three at the back.
Musonda fired over after a good move early on, before Solanke's neat flick from Cole's dangerous delivery from the right sailed just inches past the far post.
Solanke was involved again, as he had been throughout, picking up a clever intricate pass from Ali and rattling the bar with Bannister beaten, though it wasn't long before the Blues found the leveller they had been searching for. Heavy pressure finally paid dividends after another enterprising attacking move and Mitchell finished superbly from the edge of the area high into the corner of the net, for his first goal of the season.
It was reward for a positive response from Viveah's youth team and set the scene for them to push on for a winner. Villa defended resolutely and in numbers as the half went by, with the Blues restricted to efforts from range. Gnahore had a chance to deliver from wide on the left after being fed in by Musonda, however his centre was just too high and behind Solanke as the striker lurked for a chance.
Henry Cowans fired over as Aston Villa continued to pose a threat every so often, before Ali had an effort deflect wide as space opened up for him on the edge of the box. The 10 men of Villa were holding strong and looking to secure a valuable away league point, though the hosts could have snatched a winner inside the final 10 minutes.
Gnahore found some space down the left flank and cut the ball back for Solanke just a few yards out, however the striker's effort missed the target, with the Villa defenders searching around hopefully for the linesman's offside flag that didn't appear.
That proved to be the game's final opportunity, with Villa keen to run down the clock in the final minutes, and both sides had to settle for a share of the points. Next up for Viveash's side is a trip to Leicester City next Saturday, November 30.
Chelsea Bradley Collins; Isak Ssewankambo (Fikayo Tomori h/t), Jon Muleba (c), George Brady (Ruben Sammut h/t), Jay Dasilva; Charlie Colkett (Mukhtar Ali 21), Charly Musonda, Reece Mitchell; George Cole, Dominic Solanke, Ambrose Gnahore, Unused sub Jared Thompson
Aston Villa Forth, Zazrivec, Wildin (c), Cowans, Lyons Foster, Toner, Strain, McKirdy, Sellars, Abdo, Calder.
By Sam Poplett
Pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom