YOUTH REPORT: CHELSEA 2 NORWICH 1
Chelsea's youth team got 2014 off to a bright start at Cobham. A double strike from Dominic Solanke (pictured above), either side of a Jamie Eaton-Collins equaliser for the visitors, earned Adi Viveash's side all three points in their first outing of the new year.
Manager Viveash made five changes from the side that defeated Reading 6-0 at Cobham in their last league outing before Christmas. Bradley Collins replaced Mitchell Beeney in goal, behind a back four of captain Jonathan Muleba, Dion Conroy, George Brady and Ola Aina.
Kasey Palmer and Charlie Colkett retained their starting places in midfield, with schoolboy Mukhtar Ali joining them to make up the trio, while top goalscorer Dominic Solanke was supported from the flanks by Chike Kandi and George Cole.
The visitors from Norfolk started with two former Chelsea faces as Ben Killip, who left the Blues at the end of last year to sign a professional contract with the Canaries, started in goal. Reiss Awuah, a former Under-16, began the game in defence.
The young Blues started brighter in the Cobham winter sunshine though the opening exchanges, while hard-fought and contested, were low on clear-cut chances. Brady headed wide from an early Cole corner from the left, while Cole had an effort blocked after good build-up play involving Solanke.
The visitors also threatened in an even start, with Collins gathering comfortably in the end from a Ray Grant shot from 25 yards out. Yet the hosts, playing their first game since 21 December, were evidently a little off full match fitness and their ball retention throughout the opening 20 minutes reflected that.
Aina fired wide before former Chelsea schoolboy Awuah cleared off the line from Palmer after a neat one-two with Cole (pictured below). Chances remained limited, and Ali was booked for a late challenge as the half-hour mark loomed, before the deadlock was finally broken.
Kandi accelerated past Ben Wyatt down the right flank and fizzed an effort across goal towards the far post. Solanke, prolific this campaign as the youth team's main striker, was in the right place just a couple of yards out as he turned Kandi's powered drive goalwards and beyond the despairing dive of Killip, netting his 14th goal of the season in the process.
Norwich responded with Grant's free-kick charged down and blocked behind for a corner while, down the opposite end, Cole forced a routine save from Killip down low. The wideman had another sight at goal moments before the break, bending a free-kick from 30 yards out on to the roof of Killip's net, as Viveash's side ended the half in the ascendancy and with their advantage intact.
Jordan Houghton replaced Conroy at centre-back at the break, though the hosts were in for a couple of early scares as the young Canaries restarted with vigour. Eaton-Collins shot just wide a minute into the second period before Norwich were almost gifted the softest of equalisers.
A mistake at the back as Chelsea attempted to build their play from the goalkeeper gave Harrison Heath a golden chance, though the midfielder was denied by an excellent save with his leg by Collins, before striker Rhys Browne skewed the follow-up wide.
That was a warning sign for the hosts, who responded by looking to regain their high pressing off the ball and fast-paced retention in possession. Solanke led a quick break as the Blues sprung out from the back, with Kandi fed in down the right wing and supplying Palmer, who fired his shot narrowly wide.
As the hour mark approached Chelsea's goal came under increasing pressure. A few corners were floated into the box that came to little but Viveash's boys were struggling to keep hold of the ball, particularly building from defence into midfield areas.
Palmer fired over before Collins was called into action again, this time palming away a well-hit strike from Browne after the striker worked himself some space racing past Brady. Cole forced Killip into action down the other end with another free kick, before Palmer's ball found Solanke in behind the back four, only for the striker's first touch to leave him without space to finish the move.
Yet it wasn't long before the net was rippling, albeit as Collins was beaten to level the scores. Substitute Lewis Byrne-Hewitt fed an excellent ball through to Eaton-Collins and the midfield man finished off an enterprising move calmly.
That strike brought the Canaries level and Viveash responded by introducing Reece Mitchell in place of Ali. With Musonda now dictating play from central midfield and a front four of Solanke, Cole, Kandi and Mitchell pouring forwards, Chelsea were intent on quickly regaining the lead as the final 10 minutes approached.
Their efforts were quickly rewarded. Cole worked some space down the right and fashioned the opportunity, firing across the face of goal, and Solanke was on hand at the back post once again to finish from even nearer than his first goal. The schoolboy striker's second strike gave him his eighth goal in the last three games.
There was still work to be done as Norwich continued to threaten and Brady was forced to make an excellent last-ditch tackle as Byrne-Hewitt bore down on goal, though Chelsea held on to secure another three league points.
Next up for Viveash's side is a return to FA Youth Cup action as they host Sheffield Wednesday at Aldershot's Electrical Services Stadium this Wednesday, 15 January.
Chelsea Bradley Collins; Jonathan Muleba (c), George Brady, Dion Conroy (Jordan Houghton h/t), Ola Aina; Mukhtar Ali (Reece Mitchell 75), Kasey Palmer, Charlie Colkett (Charly Musonda 62); Chike Kandi, George Cole, Dominic Solanke.
Unused subs Jared Thompson, Ambrose Gnahore
Scorer Solanke 33, 79
Norwich Ben Killip, Cameron Norman (c), Ben Wyatt, Harvey Hodd, Kevin Lokko, Reiss Awuah (Ben Burgess 80), Henry Randall (Michael Efete h/t), Ray Grant, Harrison Heath (Lewis Byrne-Hewitt 60), Jamie Eaton-Collins, Rhys Browne
Unused subs Aston Oxborough, Christian Slales
Scorer Eaton-Collins 73
By Sam Poplett
Picture courtesy of Mark Sandom