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Under-18s report: Leicester 0 Chelsea 3

Dominant, deadly and determined to win, our youngsters demonstrated attributes in the Midlands they have shown all season as they claimed the Under-18 Premier League south section title with two games to spare.

Morris’s men recorded their ninth clean sheet of the campaign, their fourth in the last five, took their goal tally in the league to 52 and extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches with a confident victory away at Leicester.

Martell Taylor-Crossdale set them on the way with a bending free-kick, his 16th goal of the season, before George McEachran doubled our advantage after 25 minutes. An excellent first half could have garnered further goals but it took until the final stages of the contest for the visitors to complete the scoring, substitute Luke McCormick dispatching a penalty after Richard Nartey had been fouled.

Morris selected two schoolboys as part of his starting 11, with Jon Panzo making his first start of the campaign at the heart of our defence alongside captain Nartey. Reece James, the team’s only ever-present this term, and Cole Dasilva lined up at right-back and left-back respectively as the Blues reverted to a 4-2-3-1 system, with Jamie Cumming keeping his place in goal.

Tariq Uwakwe made his return from injury to partner Conor Gallagher in central midfield, while Under-16 forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, McEachran and Juan Castillo supported striker Taylor-Crossdale in attack.

The pattern of action was set almost instantly from the kick-off and skipper Nartey could have broken the deadlock with just four minutes on the clock as he met McEachran’s right-sided corner but headed off-target from a promising position.

However, we didn’t have to wait much longer for the breakthrough. McEachran was upended as he jinked between defenders on the edge of the box and Taylor-Crossdale stepped up to curl a low free-kick past the wall and into the corner beyond the dive of Cameron Yates.

With any lingering pressure relieved, the visitors pushed forward with the freedom of a side about to be crowned league winners. Taylor-Crossdale fired wide following James’s cross from the right before Simranjit Thandi intervened to deny Castillo a certain goal at the back post. Uwakwe was also thwarted, this time by the linesman’s flag, though the decision appeared harsh on the midfielder, who had found the back of the net.

McEachran then hit a looping volley narrowly over the bar before making it 2-0 midway through the half. Much of our attacking endeavours came down the right flank through James and Hudson-Odoi and it was down this avenue that we profited again as James delivered and McEachran’s deflected drive flew into the back of the net. It was the third game in a row the 16-year-old had netted for the young Blues.

Despite the scoreline, it was not as if the Foxes were defending poorly. In fact, several last-ditch clearances ensured the deficit was not heavier as the half-hour mark approached. Thandi headed over in a rare attacking opportunity for the hosts before a lightning-quick break forward, initiated by Cumming, set Hudson-Odoi racing away down the right. The winger’s approach play was bright but his final shot dragged wide of the near post.

Yates was tested more severely by Hudson-Odoi moments later, producing an impressive reaction stop to push away the forward’s powerful strike, before gathering a rising shot from Nartey before the break.

The second half was a less eventful spectacle, with Leicester improved and the Blues lacking some of their first-half zip and intensity. It took 20 minutes for a meaningful attempt to be registered, Castillo spinning neatly just inside the box before his low drive at goal was blocked well.

Gallagher went closer with a dipping effort from 25 yards that flew inches wide of the far post before Morris introduced fresh impetus from the bench in the form of McCormick, Charlie Brown and Kyle Jameson.

Leicester’s best opportunity arrived with the score still 2-0 and, had the chance been taken, it may have forced the encounter into a more competitive finale. Panzo was caught in possession and Morgan Brown advanced towards Cumming in the Chelsea goal before taking aim at the far corner. The keeper may have had the strike covered but Nartey was not prepared to take any chances and blocked the ball’s path to goal with an impressive challenge from close-range.

The result was put beyond any doubt with five minutes remaining. Panzo lashed a loose ball towards goal but saw it cleared off the line before Nartey was upended in the ensuing melee. McCormick’s introduction saw him assume spot-kick duties and he did not falter from 12 yards as he wrapped up the victory and the title.

Our youngsters play two final south section games in the next fortnight, against Brighton and West Ham, before they move into the elite play-off round where the top four sides from the north and south section face each other once, either at home or away, to determine the national champion.

Before then, Morris’s side return to Leicester next Wednesday 15 February for their FA Youth Cup quarter-final tie at the King Power Stadium. Kick-off is at 7.05pm and supporters can purchase tickets on the door priced at £3 for adults and £1 for concessions. Chelsea TV will also screen the match live.

 

Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Jamie Cumming; Reece James (Kyle Jameson 78), Richard Nartey (c), Jon Panzo, Cole Dasilva; Conor Gallagher, Tariq Uwakwe (Luke McCormick 65); Callum Hudson-Odoi (Charlie Brown 84), George McEachran, Juan Castillo; Martell Taylor-Crossdale
Unused subs
Marcin Bulka
Scorers
Taylor-Crossdale 8; McEachran 25; McCormick (pen) 85

Leicester City Cameron Yates, Simranjit Thandi, Calvin Ughelumba, Morgan Brown, George Heaven, Cal Templeton, Ethan Hodby, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Kairo Edwards-John, Thakgalo Khanya, Conor Tee (Rubyn Gill 69)

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