YOUTH REPORT: WEST BROMWICH ALBION 1 CHELSEA 1
A Chelsea side half made up by Under-16s ended a busy week for the Academy with a highly credible draw in the Midlands, with Chike Kandi (pictured) scoring the equaliser after the home side took a second-half lead.
Following on from wins for the Under-19s in the UEFA Youth League on Tuesday and for an older Under-18 selection in the FA Youth Cup on Thursday, six schoolboys were drafted into the squad for the penultimate league game before Christmas and five started.
In the defence, Tomori and Clarke-Salter are Under-16s with the latter making his debut in an Under-18 fixture. Muleba played 90 minutes of the Youth Cup win over Dartford and was was the only player who started on Thursday and played again this weekend.
Sammut and Ali in midfield are both Under-16s while Colkett is returning from injury and came on late in the Youth Cup match. Abraham in the front three completed the Under-16 count.
The West Brom side were big and strong opposition but from the start Chelsea were able to take control of the game, in contrast to last month's visit to Leicester when another young side competed well physically but struggled to get the ball down and play.
West Brom with a 4-4-1-1 shape dropped off and played quite deep so Chelsea were able to move the ball around, but coming up against an imposing block from the home side on the edge of their penalty area, found it hard in the first half to find the quality needed in and around the box to turn possession into clear chances.
In an indication of how the game was going, West Brom made all three of their substitutions at half-time and Chelsea conceded a goal against the run of play shortly after the restart. Following the setback, the youthfulness of the team started to show and West Brom got the bit between their teeth.
On the hour, Jordan Houghton who has had a long battle with injury was introduced to the defence and his presence had a significant impact. Chelsea went from being a side looking likely to concede again to one in control again, with the addition of a second sub, Kasey Palmer, aiding in that.
With just over 15 minutes to go, a break down the left led to the equaliser. Gnahore had gone to left-back with a change of shape from 4-3-3 to a diamond midfield and he advanced and was played in by Abraham before crossing. Kandi took the ball down well in the penalty area and finished for his third youth team goal of the season.
Another Under-16, Kyle Scott, came on for the closing stages with Muleba given some rest after his demanding three days, and only one team looked likely to win the game. There was a goal-line clearance from an Abraham effort and Palmer, who had looked dangerous since coming on, had two shots just wide of the post.
Chelsea Under-16 coach Joe Edwards was in charge of the side for this match.
'In the past when an FA Youth Cup match has taken place so soon before, it would be quite common for us and for other clubs to postpone the league fixture,' he explained.
'But the way our Under-16s have been developing and playing this season we have been really pleased with them, and they have needed an extra test so we were looking forward to testing them in this game.
'The midfield were outstanding, both individually and in how they played together, and every time we lost the ball we were quick to recover it. Mukhtar Ali and Ruben Sammut have been in good form ever since we won an international tournament a few weeks ago, and it was very positive to see our players who have been injured coming back well.
'In the end we were disappointed not to win it but looking at the bigger picture, playing away from home with such a young side against physically strong opposition, the performance was very pleasing.'
Chelsea Bradley Collins; Fikayo Tomori, George Brady, Jake Clarke-Salter (Jordan Houghton), Jonathan Muleba (c) (Kyle Scott); Ruben Sammut, Mukhtar Ali, Charlie Colkett (Kasey Palmer); Tammy Abraham, Chike Kandi, Ambrose Gnahore.