YOUTH REPORT: FULHAM 2 CHELSEA 1
The Chelsea Under-18s unbeaten run that stretched back 12 games to the start of the season finally came to an end on Wednesday afternoon at Motspur Park.
In what was their final game of 2012, the young Blues conceded shortly before and shortly after the interval before pulling one goal back through schoolboy Connor Hunte. It was an entertaining second half following a largely sterile first period, with Chelsea's best periods coming in the minutes around their goal and in the closing stages of the game.
An equaliser proved elusive but despite the defeat, the team finish four points ahead of second-place Fulham at top of their league and in the new year begin the elite stage if this season's reshaped competition.
Chelsea enjoyed a good deal of the ball in the opening stages, if not the territorial advantage to match, but the first chance was Fulham's - their centre-forward Moussa Dembele turning a cross goalwards from close range, but centre-back Isak Ssewankambo was in the right place to block on the line. The rebound was put wide.
Steadily our Under 18s began to push the home side deeper and midway through the half had a good shout for a penalty denied. It was a swift move that led to Connor Hunte taking the ball past his marking full-back on the left edge of the area. He appeared tripped and the player was convinced he had been fouled, but the ref played on.
Shortly after the Chelsea left winger didn't quite make it to a threatening ball across the area and claimed a push, but this time the argument appeared less convincing.
The pacy and tricky Hunte, still a schoolboy, continued to feature increasingly in Chelsea's attacking play but as the young Blues pushed for the opener, a Fulham breakaway had to be guarded against. Ssewankambo fouled Muamer Tankovic just outside the Chelsea area during just such a counter-attack but fortunately the free-kick from Lyle Della Verde was slammed into the Blues' wall.
Fulham had been on the back foot for a while, even if their goal hadn't been under much threat, but they had a good spell just before the break and were rewarded with a goal. The scorer was Moussa Dembele, turning Tankovic's cut-back on target with enough power the beat Ben Killip despite the Chelsea keeper getting a hand to the ball.
The half-time score of 1-0 may not have reflected possession but Fulham had been the side with what few chances there had been, and that continued at the start of the second-half. First Dean O'Halloran fired wide before Jordan Evans made it 2-0 with six minutes of the half played; the Blues not dealing with a ball across the box and a well-placed shot into the top corner giving Killip little chance.
The doubling of the deficit seemed to give Chelsea impetus and Hunte scored a well-deserved goal after Houghton split the defence. The shot cannoned in off the far post with 57 minutes played. Hunte then had the opportunity to make it 2-2 moments later but this time fired over before Fulham upped their game once again.
O'Halloran shot twice, once wide and the second effort well saved by Killip. Dion Conroy in central defence had to make a fine tackle to keep the Whites at bay when the last defender.
Inside the final 20 minutes Fulham hit the post through Della Verde and Killip had to be at his best to keep out Daniel O'Reilly who met a corner with a thumping header.
The second-half was proving a stark contrast to the first in terms of goalmouth activity and Chelsea dug deep.
Ssewankambo looked set to head a corner home but missed the ball. When it dropped, Houghton's shot was scrambled just wide of the Fulham goal.
Corner followed free-kick followed corner followed free-kick as Chelsea pushed hard for the equaliser, but time was running out.
Reece Mitchell was fouled just outside the Fulham and when the initial free-kick was blocked, full-back Fankaty Dabo with his less favoured left had a shot deflected wide. That was the last attempt on goal by either side.
Joe Edwards, Adi Viveash's assistant, took the team at Fulham and said after the game: 'We want to develop a winning mentality but first and foremost the performances are more important. It is difficult to come away with a defeat but the boys are pleased they played football the right way in difficult circumstances. It was a difficult pitch and Fulham played a high press against us and are very hard working, but we kept trying to play. They were two disappointing goals to concede but for the last 40 minutes we really dominated, and the mentality we showed was pleasing.
'We will play Fulham again in the elite stage and we like to think we have now got ourselves the best games programme. The opposition teams are going to be strong and that is what we want to face.'
Chelsea will play in a league with Bolton, Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham, Manchester United, Reading and Southampton in the second half of the season.
Chelsea: Ben Killip; Fankaty Dabo, Isak Ssewankambo, Dion Conroy, Kevin Wright; Tom Howard (Charlie Colkett), Jordan Houghton, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (c); Reece Mitchell, Alex Kiwomya (Ambrose Gnahore), Connor, Hunte.