Jon Harley reflected on the ultimate game of two halves after watching our youngsters run into a 3-0 lead away at Leicester City before being pegged back and having to cling on for the points in the Under-18 Premier League.
The assistant coach took charge of the first youth team game in 2019 in the absence of Andy Myers, who ruptured his achilles tendon in a training session last month and has had to have surgery, and our former left-back admitted it was an afternoon of contrasting fortunes in the Midlands.
Marcel Lewis’s brace either side of a header from Jack Wakely put the young Blues into a commanding early lead and Harley praised the team’s start as one of their best displays of the campaign.
‘After the way we finished before Christmas with two defeats to Man United in the cup competitions, we wanted to make sure we showed a good reaction and it was a great start to be 3-0 up after just 15 minutes,’ he told the official Chelsea website after the game.
‘When we played Leicester at home earlier in the season [a 1-1 draw], we completely dominated possession but didn’t really hurt them. Our main focus in this game was to be more direct and progressive with our play, using forward passes and forward runs to cause them problems.
‘The rotation between our two strikers George Nunn and Thierno Ballo with Marcel Lewis in the number 10 position was unbelievable in the first half. They were brilliant and we were getting into goalscoring positions quite easily but we should have scored more and been out of sight by half-time.’
A hatful of missed opportunities were subsequently rued as the Foxes came fighting back after the restart, reducing the deficit to one inside just 10 second-half minutes.
‘It was a strange game because the first half was possibly the best we’ve played all season but the second half was probably one of our worst performances.'
— Jon Harley
‘We stopped doing all the things we were doing so well in the first half and they managed to score two quick goals to get back into the game, both of which came from our mistakes,' continued Harley.
‘For the last half-hour it was almost an onslaught but that was a good test for us because it’s one of the few times this season we’ve been bombarded with balls into our box and we’ve had to deal with it. Karlo Ziger in goal made seven or eight really big saves to keep us in front and that was impressive because he’d had very little to do in the first half.’
The victory keeps the Blues close to the top two in the Under-18 Premier League southern section, trailing the leaders Tottenham by three points and just one behind second-placed Arsenal. After next weekend’s home encounter with Southampton, Myers’s men then take on both London rivals in what looks to be a pivotal period for the title race.
However, while pleased with the points, Harley pointed to the challenging circumstances of the second period posing new learning experiences for the players.
‘Leicester is always a tough place to get a result so taking three points home is a positive and for 45 minutes we played extremely well,’ he added. ‘There are plenty of positives to take from the game and plenty of things we can reflect back on to make sure they don’t happen again. A lot of that will be dealing with aerial balls into the box and being a bit quicker with our decision-making on the ball when we’re under pressure.
‘Our main job is always focused on development so from that point of view it’s a great learning experience for the players. They weren’t playing well in the second half but they had to really dig in to grind out the result.’
-Next up for our Academy is a big game for the development squad in the Checkatrade Trophy last-16 next week. Joe Edwards’s side take on League One Peterborough United at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday (9 January) and tickets are still available now priced at just £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.