Our youngsters came out on top after a bruising Under-18 Premier League encounter that was settled by George Nunn’s second-half strike but also owed much to two penalty saves from Nicolas Tie, the goalkeeper.
Nunn’s goal, a clinical finish from close range, was sandwiched in between a saved penalty in each half as Andy Myers’s side rode their luck but ultimately earned the points that keep them third in the table.
Myers made three changes from last weekend’s big win over Swansea City, two of which came in midfield as Clinton Mola missed out through suspension and Lewis Bate returned to play with the Under-16s. Jon Russell and Marcel Lewis returned to the engine room as the Blues retained their 3-4-2-1 shape, with Thierno Ballo and schoolboy Myles Peart-Harris supporting Nunn in attack.
Goalkeeper Tie came in between the sticks protected by a back three of Dynel Simeu, Sam McClelland and Pierre Ekwah Elimby, while Marcel Lavinier and Henry Lawrence continued in the wing-back positions.
There were just two places separating these two sides at the start of the day and it was a predictably well-matched opening on a bright but windy morning in the Midlands. The Blues tried to utilise the width on a narrow pitch but found time in possession at a premium and spaces closed down quickly by the hard-working hosts.
Villa created the only chance of note in a quiet start as striker Aaron Pressley fashioned the space to shoot at goal, though Tie was equal to his effort and pushed it round the post. It would prove to be the start of a busy outing for our French keeper.
Peart-Harris had claimed two assists last weekend and almost had a hand in putting us ahead after 20 minutes as his corner from the right was floated invitingly into the six-yard box. Ekwah Elimby’s efforts to connect were thwarted and Simeu fired the loose ball towards goal but was denied by a goal-line clearance.
Action quickly shifted to the opposite penalty area and there was an excellent opportunity for Villa to break the deadlock when Indiana Vassilev shuffled into the box and was brought tumbling to the ground by a challenge from Russell. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Vassilev stepped up but the American’s effort was kept out well by Tie’s low stop.
It was a let-off for Myers’s men and they almost doubled the damage down the other end as Peart-Harris stretched to get on the end of Lewis’s inswinging free-kick. The 16-year-old made decent connection with the header but failed to keep it down.
Yet it was David Hughes’s side who ended the first period in the ascendancy. Ethan Patterson forced a routine stop from Tie before Vassilev fired narrowly over and Ben Guy hit the target from the edge of the box.
The Blues were looking to keep in touch with the top two in the Under-18 Premier League southern section and they restarted more purposefully, though it was Charlie Farr who shot just over inside a minute of the second half, having been teed up cleverly by Vassilev.
The only goal of the game arrived with 53 minutes on the clock during a period of Chelsea pressure. Lewis had two efforts from distance blocked in quick succession and a third, this time from just inside the box, fell nicely into the path of Nunn. The striker had time to steady himself as the ball bounced up and fired emphatically beyond Viljami Sinisalo from close range for his third goal in two games.
Our advantage was under threat almost instantly as Villa turned over possession on halfway and broke forward into the box, led by Pressley advancing towards Tie. As the striker tried to round the goalkeeper, he went down under the challenge but it looked like the French teenager had made contact with the ball.
Nevertheless, a second penalty of the game was awarded, leaving the Blues contesting strongly. Pressley this time assumed spot-kick responsibilities but the outcome was the same as before the break, Tie diving low to his right and pushing the ball to safety.
Under-18s assistant Jon Harley had praised the team’s defensive record after the win over Swansea and our rearguard efforts continued to be spearheaded by the French resistance. However, the keeper also owed his clean sheet to the contribution of defenders and Simeu proved perfectly positioned after the hour mark to flick Vassilev’s shot over the crossbar.
The visitors worked tirelessly to preserve their lead in the final 20 minutes, while also retaining an attacking threat on the break. Lavinier trickled an attempt across the face of goal but narrowly evaded Ballo at the back post, while Sinisalo saved from substitute Jordan Aina after another corner caused problems in the Villa box.
It was a makeshift line-up that ended the game as James Clark came on at left wing-back and Aina in the centre of defence, while Lawrence battled through the last few minutes with an injury after receiving a hefty challenge on the touchline. It all typified the fighting mentality that proved so crucial in collecting the points and means the Blues keep in touch with Arsenal and Tottenham ahead of next week’s trip to face the Gunners.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Nicolas Tie; Dynel Simeu, Sam McClelland, Pierre Ekwah Elimby (Jordan Aina 53); Marcel Lavinier (c), Jon Russell (James Clark 67), Marcel Lewis, Henry Lawrence; Myles Peart-Harris (Armando Broja 77), Thierno Ballo; George Nunn
Unused subs Jake Askew
Scorer Nunn 53
Aston Villa Viljami Sinisalo, Brad Burton, Charlie McConnachie, Jack Birch, Ethan Patterson (c), Mungo Bridge, Harrison Sohna, Indiana Vassilev (Carney Chukwuemeka 89), Aaron Pressley, Ben Guy (Michael Tait 62), Charlie Farr (Brad Young 78)
Unused subs Akos Onodi, Dominic Revan