Our youngsters had to settle for a second consecutive draw in the Under-18 Premier League, as we twice came from behind to earn a point against West Ham United despite hitting the woodwork three times in the first half.
It looked set to be a difficult afternoon when West Ham opened the scoring from the penalty spot, given our Under-18s’ struggles in front of goal after three games without finding the net, but George Nunn go us back on the score sheet with a quick response, sliding in James Clark’s low cross from close range.
There was a long wait for the next goal, but again it was West Ham who took the lead with 11 minutes left, following a scramble on the edge of the box, but just two minutes later Pierre Ekwah Elimby capitalised on a goalkeeping error at a corner to secure a draw for the Blues.
Manager Andy Myers made five changes to his starting line-up with several players returning to the side who missed the last match with Norwich, after being called up to the Under-19s squad for the UEFA Youth League quarter-final win over Dinamo Zagreb.
Jake Askew returned in goal, with Dynel Simeu and Pierre Ekwah Elimby keeping their places ahead of him, being joined in the back three by Henry Lawrence. That saw James Clark move to left wing-back, with Marcel Lavinier on the other wing and Jon Russell and Clinton Mola both returning in midfield. Thierno Ballo moved forward to join George Nunn in support of striker Armando Broja, meaning all three attackers maintained their place from the Norwich game.
Chelsea started with all of the ball, with one long spell of patient possession at the back nearly presenting the first chance, when Broja was released into the right-hand channel, but his low cross was turned behind for a corner. From the resulting set-piece, a flick on sent the ball towards Simeu, whose header was tipped onto the cross bar by West Ham goalkeeper Serine Sanneh, only to see the linesman’s flag raised as he prepared to pounce on the rebound.
The Blues were certainly keeping Sanneh on his toes in the early stages, as he twice had to rush off his line to prevent Broja getting on the end of balls in behind, first from a long ball over the top from Askew and then when Ballo surged forward on the break and tried to slip Broja through on goal.
However, 13 minutes in West Ham were awarded a penalty after Simeu was adjudged to have clipped the heels of Veron Parkes in the corner of the box, Amadou Diallo stepping up and giving Askew no chance from the spot as he slotted into the bottom left-hand corner.
Chelsea had the ball in the back of the net ourselves almost immediately, but again the linesman’s flag went up to deny us, this time after Ballo’s close-range finish.
Nunn went close to finding an equaliser on the 20-minute mark, reacting quickest to a deflected low cross, but he could only turn it into the side netting from a tight angle at the near post.
He made no mistake two minutes later, though, sliding the ball into the back of the net from close range to even the scores. James Clark had been found in acres of space out on the left wing and drove to the byline before drilling a dangerous cross low into the six-yard box, with Nunn arriving with a late run to score.
The visitors were still looking dangerous, though, especially on the break, with Parkes’ powerful half-volley from just outside the box not going too far over, even if Askew seemed to have it covered.
However, it was Chelsea who looked the most dangerous, going close twice in quick succession from the same inside-left position, first Nunn firing narrowly over and then Clark rattling the crossbar with a strong effort.
The frame of the goal had barely stopped shaking when it came to West Ham’s rescue again, this time denying Russell when the midfielder curled in a free-kick to the near post from wide on the left. Russell had another chance to get his name on the score sheet before half-time, when he was found with a low cross by Lavinier, who had done brilliantly to beat his man and get in behind on the right, but Russell couldn’t keep his first-time shot on target.
West Ham did have the ball in the back of the net with the last kick of the first half, but Parkes was well offside and it was disallowed.
Myers made a change in defence for Chelsea during the break, with one eye on his team’s upcoming schedule as they face a further two London derbies over the next week, with Sam McClelland replacing Simeu at the centre of the back three.
Broja was a coat of paint away from giving us the lead early in the second half as he attempted to punish some sloppy defensive work from West Ham, picking up a loose pass and driving towards goal, but his low effort skimmed the far post on its way wide.
The Blues continued to push for a goal but were finding clear chances harder to come by as the second half settled down, despite Lavinier threatening to get free down the right on a few occasions, and Myers looked to freshen things up in attack by bringing on Marcel Lewis in place of Ballo with just over half-an-hour remaining.
Both teams were finding it hard to maintain prolonged spells of possession, looking most dangerous when breaking quickly, and the first yellow card of the game arrived when West Ham’s Kristijan Belic cynically dragged down Lavinier off the ball, as our wing-back attempted to surge forward after foiling an attack and releasing Lewis down the right.
Neither keeper had really been troubled since half-time, despite the game switching quickly from end to end, as the clock ticked over into the last 20 minutes. However, Askew was briefly worried as Manny Longelo tried his luck from outside the box, but he dragged his effort a couple of yards wide.
Chances gradually started to arrive as the half went on, as Lavinier did well to drive down the right and cut inside, but he chose to shoot left-footed and the curling effort couldn’t match the quality of the run, flying high and wide.
Myers made his final change of the match as he looked to regain control of possession, with Broja being replaced by defender Jordan Aina, allowing Lawrence to move up into midfield.
However, it was the visitors who took the lead with 11 minutes left to play, when Chelsea were unable to clear the ball in a long scramble on the edge of the box, before it broke kindly for Longelo and the Hammers striker finished at the near post.
Their lead lasted just two minutes, though. Lewis ran at the defenders on the left and did brilliantly to get free, but his attempted cut-back was blocked for a corner. That set-piece saw us back on level terms, as the keeper came but failed to gather, allowing Ekwah Elimby to sweep home the loose ball on the penalty spot.
Lewis was causing West Ham all kinds of problems and went close with a powerful curling shot from distance almost straight from the restart, but Sanneh made amends in the West Ham goal to parry it away. He was called into action again to tip over as Lewis’ over-hit free-kick from deep threatened to sneak in.
That set up a high-paced finish as both teams pushed for a winner, Clark coming closest for Chelsea when he got on the end of Lewis’ cross at the back post, but he couldn’t get enough power on his volley to beat Sanneh with the ball slightly behind him.
Lewis looked like he might get one more chance all of his own making as he won the ball high up and beat two men with the ball, but lost his footing at the crucial moment just as he prepared to get his shot away in the box. As it was, West Ham had the game’s final chance, Askew producing an excellent save to push a powerful effort wide in stoppage time.
In the end both sides were probably left frustrated they weren’t able to win the game, with West Ham twice failing to hold on to their lead and Chelsea left to look back at several first-half chances they couldn’t convert, leaving us still sat in third place in the table.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Jake Askew; Henry Lawrence, Dynel Simeu (Sam McClelland h-t), Pierre Ekwah Elimby; Marcel Lavinier, Jon Russell, Clinton Mola (c), James Clark; Thierno Ballo (Marcel Lewis 59), George Nunn; Armando Broja (Jordan Aina 78)
Unused subs Kelechi Chibueze, Myles Peart-Harris
Scorers Nunn 22, Ekwah Elimby 81
West Ham United (3-4-1-2) Serine Sanneh; Harrison Ashby, Josh Okotcha (c), Josh Wilson Esbrand; Amadou Diallo, Jake Giddings, Kristijan Belic (Seb Nybela 85), Jayden Fevrier; Louie Watson (Heenan Forson 59); Manny Longelo, Veron Parkes
Unused subs Sam Nsumbu, Josh Rouch, Anouar El Mhassani
Scorers Diallo (pen) 13, Longelo 79
Booked Belic 67
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom