YOUTH REPORT: CHELSEA 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 1
The Under-18s played out an entertaining game with Manchester United as they shared the points in a 1-1 draw at a blustery Cobham.
Jesse Starkey's super bending free-kick right before the interval cancelled out Rudge's opener for the visitors. Chelsea had substitute Ola Aina sent off at the end but held on for a deserved point.
Manager Adi Viveash had a host of the usual faces available for selection and started Reece Mitchell and Tom Howard either side of Chike Kandi in attack. Kevin Wright, an ever-present this season, started on the left of defence with Jonathan Muleba and Isak Ssewankambo partnering one another at centre back and Fankaty Dabo continuing on the right. Mitchell Beeney kept his place as the man between the sticks, while John Swift skippered the side from midfield, alongside Starkey (pictured) and Jeremie Boga.
The opening exchanges were frenetic and the pace of the game, particularly in midfield, was indicative of the level that these two sides have been at this season in progressing to the elite group stage. Dabo conceded an early free kick on the edge of the box that was eventually blocked well, before Boga was unlucky not to open the scoring after beating a few red shirts and forcing a good save from Sutherland in the United goal.
The visiting 'keeper was the busiest over the first half hour, saving at a comfortable height from Kandi after a good move involving Boga, Swift and Mitchell, before demonstrating great agility and reflexes to deny Boga's effort at the back post after Wright had got to the byline down the left flank and delivered an inviting ball.
United's constant pressure of the ball was asking questions of a Chelsea side so familiar with passing out from the back, and the visitors were occasionally able to steal possession high up the field and attack. Swift was the guilty party on one occasion, shortly after he had booked for a late tackle, but Starkey did well to intercept and Muleba snuffed out any additional danger.
At the other end Swift almost broke the deadlock, after good work from Howard and Mitchell down the left had won the hosts a corner, but could only adjust his body so much and arrowed his chance over the bar. Not long after the visitors were ahead as Rudge got in behind the Blues backline and finished confidently past Beeney.
Ssewankambo shortly joined Swift in the referee's notebook, picking up a booking of his own after pulling back a United attacker right on the edge of the box, however it was a free kick up the other end that was to provide the next big action of the match. Boga's quick feet drew the foul in a rather central area moments before the interval and Starkey stepped up to bend it past the wall and beyond the despairing dive of the goalkeeper to level the scores.
The game continued in much the same fashion after the break, with chances at either end and the emphasis of both sides on keeping the ball amid the hustle and bustle in the middle of the pitch. However Boga should have put the hosts ahead on the hour mark after bursting in behind United's defence. The young Frenchman did everything right in getting away from the defenders and was arguably fouled as he prepared to pull the trigger, however his eventual scooped effort just dipped the wrong side of the bar, with Kandi well-placed and desperate for the tap-in.
The Blues then had a couple of free-kick opportunities which passed by, with Swift and then Boga going very close but just seeing their efforts fly over the bar. The build-up for the latter could well have seen the hosts given a penalty, though the referee adjudged the handball to have taken place just outside the penalty box.
The visitors will feel they could have snatched all three points at the death, however, as Aina was dismissed for a last-man tackle that really looked like it should have been given as a penalty. The referee again only deemed it as a free kick though, much to Chelsea's relief, and the attempt was blocked by the wall and eventually scrambled clear, as Viveash's side held on to a well-earned point.
Chelsea: Beeney; Dabo (Solanke 87), Ssewankambo, Muleba, Wright; Starkey, Swift (c), Boga; Howard, Kandi (Aina 82), Mitchell.