YOUTH REPORT: CHELSEA 3 SOUTHAMPTON 1
First-half goals from Kasey Palmer, Ambrose Gnahore and Dominic Solanke earned the Under-18s their fourth consecutive league win at Cobham on today (Saturday). An early second-half goal from Southampton's Marcus Barnes proved insufficient to haul the visitors back into the game and Adi Viveash's side held on for another home three points.
Jeremie Boga returned from injury to start in midfield alongside Jordan Houghton and Palmer, while Solanke led the line up top supported by Gnahore and Fankaty Dabo from the flanks.
Dion Conroy continued at centre-back alongside George Brady, Ola Aina and Jonathan Muleba began the game at full back while Ben Killip was the man between the sticks. There was a place on the bench for Reece Mitchell, also recently returned from injury.
The opening exchanges were even as both sides eased themselves into the game. Boga fired a free kick just a foot past the post from 25 yards inside the opening five minutes before a period of close combat in midfield.
The game sprang to life after a quarter of an hour as Southampton's Clinton made a remarkable overhead goal-line clearance to prevent an own goal as the ball looped over goalkeeper Harry Isted's head. The danger had come after Muleba provided a deep delivery from the left towards Houghton, whose header caused the confusion.
A few minutes later the deadlock was broken as the hosts took an early lead. Palmer, who had been denied by Isted a few moments before, expertly brought down a high ball on his chest inside the box and finished brilliantly with a volley into the bottom left corner.
The visitors had barely time to comprehend going behind before the Chelsea lead was doubled. Gnahore's perseverance down the left paid dividends as he was fortuitous with the rebound from his initial blocked effort, and finished down low into the same bottom left corner past Isted to grab his sixth goal of the season.
It was a double strike inside a couple of minutes and Southampton were stunned to find themselves two goals behind so quickly. The deficit could have been greater as Viveash's boys went for the jugular and Gnahore was denied a second goal of his own after profiting from a slip from Leggett as the goalkeeper saved well down low with his feet.
As the half hour approached the young Saints managed to compose themselves and find a way back into the game in midfield. The game turned into a tighter, more restricted battle in the middle of the pitch and both sides struggled for any meaningful spell of possession as the tempo increased.
However it was Chelsea who managed to find a breakaway and grab the killer third goal. Houghton fed Solanke in behind and the young striker rounded the goalkeeper before knocking the ball home for his seventh goal of the campaign.
As the interval loomed Chelsea should have made it four against an increasingly deflated visiting side. Having defended a Southampton free kick well the Blues launched a blistering counter-attack led by the pacy Dabo. He fed the ball into Solanke's feet and the forward spun in behind before finding Boga, however the Frenchman was denied once again by a crucial Isted save.
The game restarted with one Chelsea change as Chike Kandi replaced Boga and Solanke dropped deeper into the No.10 role. Gnahore forced a comfortable save from Isted after cutting inside from the left flank before the game was reawakened by a Southampton goal. Marcus Barnes advanced down the right side and found a smart finish past Killip that pulled the visitors back into the game.
Chelsea were struggling to maintain the first half momentum and midfield control, giving the visitors a far greater share of possession and hope that they could grab another goal back.
Viveash shuffled his pack midway through the second period, replacing Dabo with George Cole and moving Kandi over to the right flank. Palmer and Gnahore shot wide, the latter teed up well by substitute George Cole, as the Blues looked to put the game to bed, before Kandi's delivery from the right was only thwarted by an excellent intervention from the recovering defender.
Both sides continued to struggle to assert themselves in midfield as the game opened up in the final 15 minutes. Chelsea searched for a fourth goal that would kill the game off and Reece Mitchell replaced Houghton to add an extra attacking threat. Southampton were encouraged themselves to hunt for a second goal that would ensure a nervy finale and wasted a chance by firing harmlessly over after a mistake in possession by Killip.
Solanke headed narrowly over as the final whistle loomed and the Blues managed to see the game out to secure a fourth consecutive league win.
Chelsea : Ben Killip; Ola Aina, George Brady, Dion Conroy, Jonathan Muleba (c); Jordan Houghton (Reece Mitchell 80) Kasey Palmer, Jeremie Boga (Chike Kandi h/t); Ambrose Gnahore, Fankaty Dabo (George Cole 65), Dom Solanke.
Unused sub Brad Collins
Southampton : Isted, Leggett, Nehemie, Little, Clinton, Debayo, Barnes, Mason, Gallagher, Hesketh, Sims.
By Sam Poplett.