YOUTH REPORT: LEICESTER CITY 2 CHELSEA 1
Chelsea's Under-18 side went down to their third defeat of the season on Saturday as Mukhtar Ali's first-half opener was cancelled out by strikes from Brandon Fox and Danny Rowe after the restart.
There was a mixture of Under-16s involved from the start for Chelsea, as well as a couple of players who dropped down from Dermot Drummy's Under-21 training group as Dion Conroy moved into midfield, Ola Aina began at right-back and Ambrose Gnahore started out wide, while Ali, Dominic Solanke and Jay Dasilva were all involved once again.
The young Blues came into the game on the back of a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa at Cobham last weekend and, after a slow start in that game, the emphasis was placed on a forceful beginning to proceedings in the Midlands.
That paid dividends midway through the opening half, as Ali showed good composure inside the penalty area to evade a couple of defenders and finish beyond the home goalkeeper to give the Blues an early advantage.
However, despite a good spell of dominance in the aftermath of that opening goal, the visitors were unable to add a second and were left to rue their profligacy as Leicester turned the game around after half time.
Careless ball retention at the back was punished as Fox equalised a few minutes after the restart, before Rowe grabbed what was to prove to be the winner midway through the second period, powering home a front-post header from a wide free-kick delivery.
Chelsea had chances to snatch a late equaliser, with George Cole going close from a host of free-kicks in and around the Leicester penalty area, yet time ran out for the visitors as the Foxes held on for three league points.
'On the whole it was a quite a young side, going up to Leicester where, from previous experiences up there, we know we're going to get a very direct, physical, typical English-type away game,' reported Joe Edwards, the Under-16s manager, standing in for Adi Viveash.
'You know you're going to have to dig deep to get something out of the game and that was a big part of our focus going into the match, dealing with aerial balls and fighting for the second balls against big players. We spoke a lot about the importance of a fast, aggressive start after last week, where we were disappointed with the opening against Aston Villa.
'We were pleased with how that came off at the start of this game. We started well, the boys showed a good spirit from the start of the game and we settled quite quickly and played some good stuff through Reece Mitchell, Ali and Solanke in the middle.
'But after a good start we seemed to fall away in terms of our composure to get the ball down and play. It was quite a difficult pitch and Leicester pressed up high against us, forcing us to play longer and feed off the scraps.
'All the endeavour and hard work was there but we just lacked a bit of quality, which is unlike us really, and we found it difficult to get people like Cole and Solanke involved in the game.'
Despite defeat, Edwards was keen to praise the performance of striker Solanke who, with seven goals in nine appearances for the youth team so far this campaign, has been a standout performer.
'Dom's movement and the way he competed against some very physical players at the back, as a schoolboy, was a big plus for us today,' said Edwards. 'We know about his technical qualities and he's scored a lot of goals but in terms of winning flick-ons and what you'd call the ugly side of the game, he really impressed again today.
'It was good to see Kyle Scott come off the bench as well. For a very technical player in the Under-16s to come on in a very physical game was a big test for him, but he showed a lot of endeavour, which was pleasing.'
'We probably should have made better use of the good spell we enjoyed at the start of the game when we were on top,' he added. 'If we'd got a second goal before their equaliser we probably would have gone on and been comfortable because up until their goal they didn't really look like scoring.
'It was one of those days where we just lacked the final ball in and around the box but it's by no means disappointing to see us go up there and have a go at dealing with the problems that Leicester pose.'
Next up for the youth team is a home game against Fulham next Saturday, 7 December.
Chelsea: Collins; Aina, Brady (Kandi), Muleba (c), Dasilva; Conroy, G Cole, Mukhtar Ali (Scott); Solanke, Mitchell, Gnahore.
Unused subs Thompson, Christie-Davies.