UNDER-18S REPORT: CHELSEA 3 CRYSTAL PALACE 1
Our Under-18s showed great character to come from behind and overcome Crystal Palace 3-1 at Cobham, bringing the curtain down on the league campaign with a deserved win.
With thoughts dominated by Monday's impending FA Youth Cup final second leg against Norwich City, Andy Myers, who took charge, named a young side, handing starts to the likes of Jay Da Silva and Dominic Solanke.
It was Palace who started the brighter of the two teams, and they were denied by the frame of the goal inside the opening five minutes after Derek Tieku pounced on a loose ball which Nortei Nortey had failed to clear. The striker's shot had Ben Killip beaten, but it cannoned off the outside of the post and behind for a goal-kick.
The Blues were struggling to find any kind of rhythm early on, and while George Cole and Tom Howard were working hard in the middle of the park, our creative players were struggling to impose themselves on proceedings.
The visitors, on the other hand, looked confident in the final third, aided in no small part by the attacking instincts of left-back Jerome Williams, who was a constant threat.
It came as no surprise when Palace took the lead 17 minutes into the game. Tieku crossed from wide on the left, and although Killip displayed great agility to save from Reise Allassani, the rebound fell invitingly for Sullay Kaikai, who rifled his strike into the back of the net.
The away side continued to dominate for the remainder of the half, with Williams going close to doubling their advantage three minutes before the break, firing wide after evading the challenge of the advancing Killip.
With virtually the last kick of the half, however, and with our first attack of any note, we were back on level terms.
The ball was worked out to the left-hand side where Ambrose Gnahore picked up possession. The wide-man drove into the penalty area and delivered a cross which landed at the feet of Solanke, and the striker finished smartly, lifting the ball over Tom King to equalise at a crucial time.
The goal just before the break appeared to have sparked us into life, and less than five minutes into the second half we were in front.
Solanke picked up the ball inside Palace territory and advanced towards goal; with the defenders backing off and seemingly afraid to make a challenge, he intelligently played the ball into the path of Connor Hunte [pictured above], and the Chelsea number 10 made no mistake, firing low and hard into the bottom corner.
The Blues were much improved after the break, and we were first to every ball, with Howard and Cole dominating the midfield area with some tenacious tackling.
Da Silva, meanwhile, an Under-15, deserved great credit for the composure and maturity he was providing at left-back.
Chelsea were by far the better side as Palace began to tire physically and mentally, with both Hunte and Cole going close in quick succession, the latter following a wonderful solo run.
With 20 minutes left to play Myers made his first switch of the game, replacing Gnahore with Walter Figueira, and the substitute would go on to have the final say in the game.
As the Blues won the ball back on the halfway line, it was played forward to Hunte. The youngster, buoyed by his goal, played a delightful ball into the path of Figueira, and he calmly rolled it beyond King to seal the victory.
There was still time for us to threaten late on, as Ismail Seremba crashed an effort from outside the box against the foot of the post, but our two second-half goals had knocked the stuffing out of Palace, ensuring there was no way back for the visitors.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Ben Killip; Nortei Nortey (Mukhtar Ali 89), Sam Bangura, Jon Muleba (c), Jay Da Silva; George Cole, Tom Howard, Connor Hunte; Ismail Seremba, Dominic Solanke, Ambrose Gnahore (Walter Figueira 70).
Unused subs: Jordan Beeney, Rube Sammut, Isaac Christie-Davies.