Our youngsters endured a frustrating morning in the Under-18 Premier League as six schoolboys featured but they failed to find a breakthrough in Norfolk.
A header from James Clark late in the first half crashed against the crossbar and that proved to be the closest either side would come to breaking the deadlock. Armando Broja and Myles Peart-Harris, the latter coming off the bench, had chances after the break but were denied by Norwich keeper Daniel Barden as the Blues drew a blank for the third game running.
Manager Andy Myers started with three schoolboys in his starting 11 as Xavier Simons and Jamal Musiala came into the midfield, while Dion Rankine started at wing-back in a youthful side. George Nunn operated alongside Broja up front, with Musiala just behind in a 3-4-1-2 shape.
Nicolas Tie retained his place in goal protected by a back three of Dynel Simeu, Pierre Ekwah Elimby and Clark, while Jordan Aina and Rankine lined up as wing-backs. Thierno Ballo captained the team alongside Simons in central midfield.
Tie was called into action inside five minutes as the hosts started well on a sunny morning on the east coast. A right-sided attack saw Andrew Omobamidele advance into the box and towards goal but our French keeper was quick off his line to smother the ball at the midfielder’s feet.
The Blues had seen their faint title aspirations extinguished with consecutive league defeats in recent weeks, with the creation and conversion of goalscoring opportunities proving a particular challenge.
However, Broja thought he had found the net early on as his header nestled beyond Barden following a brilliant inswinging cross from Aina, though the linesman’s flag cut short the visitors’ celebrations.
Myers’s side soon settled into the contest, given freedom to play out from the back and then seeking longer passes in behind towards the two-pronged attack. Broja found space running down the right channel and cut the ball back invitingly for Ballo on the edge of the box, though the Austrian’s shot was turned behind courtesy of a brave header from Zac Dronfield.
Aina and Tony Springett then exchanged low saved efforts in either penalty area as the encounter opened up for the first time midway through the first period. The former was fashioned after good work from Musiala skipping away from challenges in the Norwich box, while Norwich’s chance came courtesy of a clever forward pass from Anis Mehmeti.
With 10 minutes before the break, the visitors rattled the woodwork. Nunn assumed set-piece responsibilities and whipped in an inviting corner for Clark to attack, with the defender’s header leaving Barden stranded but kept out by the crossbar.
Chances were at an even greater premium after the restart, even though the Blues found more pockets of space in the Norwich half with the introduction of Tino Livramento and Peart-Harris. It was the latter who made the biggest impact in the final third, racing on to one long forward pass and bearing down on goal before his left-footed drive was deflected over.
A subsequent corner delivered by the schoolboy floated all the way across the face of goal without a Chelsea touch as Myers’s men pushed for the winner without success. Barden played his part in that with two smart saves late on, initially denying Broja one-on-one following a clever pass forward from Ballo before reacting quickly down to his right to keep out a stinging strike from Peart-Harris in stoppage time.
The result leaves us third in the southern league table, though victories elsewhere today for Arsenal and Tottenham mean the defence of our title is now mathematically over.
Chelsea (3-4-1-2) Nicolas Tie; James Clark, Dynel Simeu, Pierre Ekwah Elimby; Dion Rankine (Tino Livramento 53), Xavier Simons, Thierno Ballo (c), Jordan Aina (Samuel Iling-Junior 74); Jamal Musiala (Myles Peart-Harris 59); George Nunn, Armando Broja
Unused subs Kelechi Chibueze
Norwich City Daniel Barden, Ethen Vaughan, Atli Barkarson, Andrew Omobamidele, Zac Dronfield (c), Nelson Khumbeni, Tony Springett, Denzelle Olopade, Kole Lambert (Tyrese Omotoye 79), Tom Dickson-Peters, Anis Mehmeti (Josh Martin 59)
Unused subs Ante Berekley, Joe Rose, Arash Ahmadi
Referee Michael Robertson-Tant