A hard-fought win over Norwich earned Chelsea's Under-18s three points in Norwich on Saturday afternoon.
Goals in the first half from Joe Haigh and Jude Soonsup-Bell moved our youngsters into sixth place in the league standings. Haigh hit home from range after seven minutes for the opener, then Soonsup-Bell's free-kick doubled our lead before the break.
Norwich found a goal back after the interval but solid work in defence kept the hosts from building on their momentum, earning the young Blues their third league win of 2021.
Ed Brand named a side which included three schoolboys for Saturday’s game, while Alfie Gilchrist and Luke Badley-Morgan returned to the starting line-up. On the bench was goalkeeper Prince Adegoke made the squad for the first time this season after suffering a knee injury during the last campaign.
As the pattern in recent weeks, Chelsea got off to a flying start pegging Norwich back from the first whistle and within five minutes Haigh had fired wide from Silko Thomas’ centre - but the 17-year-old was sure to find the target with his next attempt.
Haigh collected the ball in midfield and although he had plenty of running options, he chose to go for goal himself. The strike was well out of the reach of Sam Blair who could only watch as Chelsea took the lead within the seventh minute, it was the fourth goal of the season for the in-form teenager.
The young Blues didn’t ease up there though, Thomas and Charlie Webster both tried their luck with only post sparing Norwich from the former’s effort, before Soonsup-Bell headed wide at the midpoint of the half.
Chelsea knew they had to take at least one of their opportunities to increase the advantage before the interval and it was Soonsup-Bell who provided the Blues with extra security in the 42nd minute, finding the net for the 17th time this season.
A free-kick 20-yards from goal was awarded to Brand’s boys and after witnessing Webster’s strike last week, Soonsup-Bell matched his team-mate’s attempt and found the top corner from the set-piece, doubling the lead minutes before half-time.
Norwich returned to the field fighting and registered two chances within 10 minutes. Abu Kamara and Jon Rowe both went close to claiming a goal back for the hosts.
After Kamara’s earlier chance to bring his team back into the game fell short, he made sure of his next scoring opportunity and fired into the bottom corner from close range among the Blue shirts in the box.
Chelsea knew they had to respond and almost did through another Soonsup-Bell free-kick, the crossbar would deny the youngster his second of the afternoon.
Norwich were desperately trying to breach Chelsea’s defence as we entered the final quarter and thought they had after Harry Brooke’s volley bounced back off the frame of the goal and out of danger, much to the delight of the away side.
The young Blues had their even younger stopper, Curd, to thank for keeping the Canaries out, making good saves from both Joe Duffy and goal scorer Kamara. Brand's boys were made to work hard in the closing stages but back-to-the-wall defending made the three points earned well deserved in Norwich.
There’s a quick turn-around for the boys as our next fixture is at home against Brighton on Wednesday 3 March with a 1pm kick-off, brought forward from its previous date of Tuesday 13 April.
Chelsea 3-4-3 Ted Curd; Alfie Gilchrist (c), Brodi Hughes, Luke Badley-Morgan; Josh Brooking, Josh Tobin, Charlie Webster, Silko Thomas (Derrick Abu 90+2); Leo Castledine (Lewis Hall 64), Joe Haigh, Jude Soonsup-Bell (Ronnie Stutter 86)
Unused subs Prince Adegoke, Edwin Andersson
Booked Gilchrist 21; Haigh 79; Brooking 90+7
Scorer Haigh 7; Soonsup-Bell 42
Norwich Sam Blair, Solomon Alidor-Hamilton (Ola Okeowo, 86), Brad Hills, Lewis Shipley, Sean Stewart, Oscar Thorn (Alex Matos 63), Harry Brooke, Regan Riley, Joe Duffy, Abu Kamara, Jon Rowe (Kenneth Aboh 60)
Unused subs Reece Trueman, Osman Foyo
Booked Duffy 45; Hills 79
Scorer Kamara 59