Chelsea Under-18s edged a five-goal thriller in the Midlands, showing resistance to hold off Leicester City’s second-half fightback and claim all three points in the Under-18 Premier League southern section.
The young Blues were 3-0 up inside a quarter of an hour as Marcel Lewis (pictured top) bagged an early brace either side of a looping header from defender Jack Wakely. However, a number of further opportunities were spurned before the break and the Foxes returned revitalised, scoring two goals of their own in four minutes.
Karlo Ziger was as responsible as anybody for the visitors taking three points back down the M1, our Croatian keeper excelling to keep the lead intact and extend our unbeaten league run to nine matches. Andy Myers’s side remain third, just three points behind the leaders Tottenham, who we meet in a fortnight at Cobham.
There were two changes from our last starting 11 in the league, a 2-0 win over Reading on the first day of December, as Henry Lawrence and Ziger returned to the team. Lewis partnered George Nunn up front in a 3-5-2 system, with Sam McClelland, Jack Wakely and Clinton Mola lining up across central defence. Marcel Lavinier and Ian Maatsen continued in wing-back roles, while Lawrence joined Jon Russell in central midfield and Thierno Ballo operated as the most advanced midfielder.
Our youngsters were still smarting from their defeat in the FA Youth Cup last time out, a 4-3 loss at Manchester United that ended our five-year defence of the trophy, so a bright and lively opening at Leicester’s Belvoir Drive training ground was hardly unexpected. Yet they matched intensity and invention with a clinical touch in front of goal and quickly raced into a commanding lead.
Lewis had only scored once before Christmas but doubled his tally for the campaign inside 80 seconds, latching on to Ballo’s cutback before beating Oliver Bosworth, the home goalkeeper, with a right-footed effort that spun up and sailed into the far top corner.
A fluid and focused start was causing problems for the hosts, who started the weekend two places but nine points behind Myers’s men. It was soon 2-0 and a quick corner routine unlocked the door on this occasion. Lewis and Maatsen orchestrated the swift manoeuvre and Wakely arrived on cue to power a perfect header into the corner.
Leicester were bemoaning a slow start, typified by their lax defending for that second goal, but it got worse for Trevor Peake’s team as they fell three goals behind inside 15 minutes. Lewis picked up a long diagonal pass in behind the backline and showed his strength to shrug off the challenge of a defender, before firing powerfully from left to right across goal.
After holding us to a 1-1 draw at Cobham in August, the only side to take points from the Blues at home all season, this contest looked done before it had barely got going. In truth, the visitors ought to have been out of sight by the break as Nunn was thwarted on two occasions in the box and Ballo clipped the post after half an hour.
The Foxes provided a reminder of their attacking competency shortly before that when Shane Flynn rattled the crossbar, though it was Lawrence who went closest to adding the game’s fourth goal after 43 minutes. The midfielder got himself into a promising position but delayed his decision and allowed defenders back to block.
Those missed opportunities were rued within 10 minutes of the restart as Leicester reduced the deficit to one to claw themselves back into the contest. Dempsey Arlott-John pulled the first goal back after 50 minutes, powering a header past Ziger from Luke Thomas’s cross to make it 3-1. Justen Kranthove then added another as a corner caused confusion in the Chelsea 18-yard box, leaving the Dutch defender to bundle the ball in from a few yards out.
The remaining half hour saw mostly one-way traffic and the Blues were indebted to Ziger for preserving the points. Our keeper saved from striker Will Russ and Dennis Gyamfi, before pulling off an impressive one-handed stop to push away Flynn’s goal-bound cross.
With the final whistle looming, there was one more crucial piece of work for Ziger and he produced another match-winning save to deny Arlott-John and keep us firmly in the southern title race. Our youngsters return to action next weekend at home to Southampton.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Karlo Ziger; Sam McClelland, Jack Wakely (c), Clinton Mola; Marcel Lavinier (James Clark 90), Jon Russell (Pierre Ekwah Elimby 60), Thierno Ballo (Armando Broja 80), Henry Lawrence, Ian Maatsen; Marcel Lewis, George Nunn
Unused subs Ethan Wady, Dynel Simeu
Scorers Lewis 2, 15; Wakely 9
Leicester City Oliver Bosworth, Dennis Gyamfi, Luke Thomas, Sidnei Tavares, Ed Elewa-Ikpakwu, Justen Kranthove, Dempsey Arlott-John, Oliver Ewing (Johnson Gyamfi 74), Will Russ, Terell Pennant, Shane Flynn
Unused subs Tom Sams, Leon James, Harrison Myring
Scorers Arlott-John 50; Kranthove 54
Booked Flynn, Arlott-John