Two schoolboys got their names on the scoresheet as a young Chelsea team finished the season with a win at Reading.
With our Under-18s already certain to finish the campaign in third place and some away in Switzerland for the UEFA Youth League finals, Andy Myers gave several younger players a chance in the team as we travelled to Berkshire, and they didn’t disappoint.
First Dion Rankine opened the scoring with a cute finish from a tight angle after another youngster, Jamal Musiala, had won the ball back high up the pitch.
Then, in the second half, Lewis Bate completed a fine individual effort as he left the defender facing the wrong way with a smart touch in a crowded penalty area before sending the ball past the keeper high into the net.
Myers retained the 4-2-3-1 formation used in our win over Fulham, but handed a debut to goalkeeper Lucas Bergstrom. In front of him James Clark came in at right-back, while Jordan Aina remained on the left and Sam McClelland partnered Dynel Simeu in the centre, with Pierre Ekwah Elimby moving into midfield alongside Jon Russell.
The attacking midfield three of Rankine, Marcel Lewis and Armando Broja also remained the same from the Fulham match, but with another debutant Jamal Musiala taking the centre-forward spot.
Chelsea made a strong start to the match despite the blustery conditions, pressing Reading high up the pitch and schoolboy Dion Rankine causing them real problems down the right in the opening stages.
Ekwah Elimby forced the first save of the match after nine minutes, but Reading goalkeeper Myles Roberts was comfortably able to parry his free-kick clear of danger following a foul on Musiala.
It looked like the breakthrough might arrive on 14 minutes when Lewis raced clear on to McClelland’s ball over the top in the right-hand channel, but the defenders managed to recover quickly and his attempted cross was blocked to prevent what looked like a certain goal.
Reading were really struggling to deal with Chelsea’s high press and it was through that we found the opening goal. Musiala nicked in to steal the ball from the centre-back when he tried to control another probing pass from McClelland and the ball broke to Rankine, who cut inside and poked the ball past the keeper from a tight angle.
The Royals pushed for an equaliser straight from the restart, though, and Bergstrom was almost immediately forced into action for the first time, saving well low to his right after the ball was cut back to the penalty spot from the left channel.
Musiala was next to test the keeper from a similar position to Rankine’s goal, but this time Roberts made himself big to save. The wind was playing an increasing role in proceedings too, and Bergstrom had to be alert to prevent a high floating cross from the left being blown in at the far post.
Bergstrom had to show another part of his game not long afterwards, despite the Blues re-establishing our early dominance, coming off his line twice in quick succession to save when one-on-one after counter-attacks.
Rankine had the final chance of the first half after being released down the right by a fine driven cross-field pass from Aina, shooting high and hard at the near post, but it was turned behind by a good save from the keeper.
Injuries either side of the break forced a flurry of substitutions, with Reading changing two of their back four, and Ekwah Elimby needing to be replaced by Lewis Bate following a heavy collision early in the second period.
Bate nearly had an instant impact, putting in a dangerous cross after a patiently worked set-piece, with Musiala inches away from getting on the end of the ball at the back post with the goal gaping.
The Reading keeper was then twice forced into good saves as we began to settle after a scrappy start to the half. First Roberts got down low to tip wide a low curling effort from Broja, following a fine one-touch passing move also heavily involving Musiala, Lewis and Russell, and then stood strong to deny Rankine a second goal of the game from the same tight angle on the right.
Reading and the wind were both still posing a threat of their own, though, and Bergstrom again had to be on his toes to prevent a corner from the left curling in with a strong punch. The Royals started to push hard for an equaliser, but were being denied shooting opportunities by the Chelsea defence, which was looking a lot more comfortable in the second half.
Chelsea should have had a second as the clock ticked over into the last 20 minutes. Russell broke free in the box with some quick feet, after good work on the right from Lewis. However, his powerful shot was well saved and the rebound arrived too quickly for Musiala to adjust his body and keep his effort on target, and he could only direct the ball over the bar from close range.
He nearly made amends straight afterwards, as he won the ball back in a dangerous position by pressing the keeper and intercepting his pass out, but this time it was Peart-Harris who couldn’t keep his shot down under a heavy challenge.
When Reading did manage to test Bergstrom again it was from a long way out, when substitute centre-back Louie Holzman stepped out of defence and tried his luck with a powerful effort which moved unpredictably in the wind, but our keeper was equal to it.
However, it was the Blues who found the net again, extending our lead through great work by Bate. He plucked a looping loose ball down out of the air with his first touch, rolled the ball across the defender and calmly finished high past the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
That proved to be the last chance of the game, as a young Blues side made sure our Under-18s finished the season on a high with all three points.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Lucas Bergstrom; James Clark, Sam McClelland, Dynel Simeu (Charlie Wiggett 78), Jordan Aina; Jon Russell (c), Pierre Ekwah Elimby (Lewis Bate 51); Dion Rankine, Marcel Lewis, Armando Broja (Myles Peart-Harris 63); Jamal Musiala
Unused subs Xavier Simons, Jake Askew
Scorers Rankine 20, Bate 83
Reading (4-2-3-1) Myles Roberts; Marcel Elva-Fountaine, Jeriel Dorsett, Josh Hewitt (Louie Holzman h-t), Imari Samuels (Ethan Bristow 43): Dejan Tetek, Roberto Nditi; Lynford Sackey, Claudio Osorio, Thierry Nevers; Nahum Melvin-Lambert (Alfie Anderson 87)
Unused subs Jokull Andresson, Kelvin Abrefa
Referee Jack Oxenham
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom