Goals from Charlie Wiggett and Brodi Hughes twice put our youngsters in front but they were ultimately left without reward as Brighton snatched all three points in the Under-18 Premier League.
Ed Brand’s side were left with an overwhelming feeling of frustration as they netted two, hit the woodwork and forced the visiting goalkeeper into a number of saves but still came away from the game with nothing.
Marcus Ifill cancelled out headed goals from our centre-backs in each half before Zak Emmerson got the winner late on for the visitors. It means the young Blues remain nine points off the top of the southern division with two games now in hand.
There were youth team debuts for both goalkeeper Prince Adegoke and schoolboy Richard Olise, the former having missed much of his maiden season as a scholar following knee surgery in the autumn.
In total, Brand made eight changes from the weekend win at Norwich City, with just Charlie Webster, Jude Soonsup-Bell and Hughes retaining their places in the team.
Heading into an early lead
This fixture last season was the final outing for our youngsters before a seven-month shutdown of the Under-18 Premier League, not that any of those involved were aware of that at the time. The 2020/21 restart was, incidentally, also against the Seagulls back in September, a 1-1 draw on the South Coast.
The young Blues were not able to open the scoring quite as early as in that season opener, when Soonsup-Bell netted inside a minute, but it didn’t take much longer than that for the breakthrough goal to arrive at an overcast Cobham.
It came in simple fashion as captain Ben Elliott swung in a corner from the right and Wiggett rose highest in the box, meeting the delivery with a powerful header into the bottom corner to beat the despairing dive of Toby Bull between the Brighton posts. A first goal for the defender since November 2019 handed the hosts an ideal platform on which to build.
Seagulls settle and strike back
Yet Brighton survived that setback and were soon firing warning shots of their own down the other end. A short corner routine saw one chance blazed narrowly over, albeit the flag was up for offside. Dion Rankine, meanwhile, was forced into a brave block to thwart Andy Moran, and Hughes made a couple of crucial interventions on the edge of our 18-yard box.
Chelsea chances were restricted to a centre from Olise headed clear by Casper Nilsson and a mazy run down the left by Soonsup-Bell, at the end of which the young striker had to settle for a corner.
The visitors then punished our passiveness with an equaliser midway through the half, Ifill running on to Moran’s pass before firing an accomplished finish low past Adegoke. It could have been worse for Brand’s boys moments later when Moran skipped away from two defenders before clipping the top of the crossbar.
Woodwork denies Webster
The mild spring conditions were slowly replaced by a rainy chill as the players emerged for the second half, Brighton probably happier with a share of the points given their position three places and four points higher than the Blues at the start of play.
An eventful restart saw the hosts in the ascendancy and Webster was almost the architect of restoring our lead as he took aim from 25 yards with a bending effort. Bull looked beaten but the ball struck the crossbar and bounced clear.
Blues pressure pays dividends
Down the other end, Adegoke made a smart stop to push away Matt Everitt’s strike through a crowd of bodies, before Bull proved equal to Rankine’s powerful swerving shot as the goalkeepers were made to work to keep parity in the contest. However, the deadlock didn’t last much longer as another of our defenders proved decisive in front of goal.
It was again a set-piece that proved Brighton’s undoing as Webster floated in a free-kick from the right flank and Soonsup-Bell’s effort was impressively kept out on the goal-line by Nilsson. Yet Hughes reacted quickest in the six-yard box, heading the loose ball into the unguarded net for his first youth team goal in just his second start to restore our lead.
Brighton were on the ropes at this point, unable to keep possession and faced with relentless waves of attacks. Derrick Abu fired wide and substitute Josh Brooking saw a looping header drop just over before Bull produced an important save to keep out a 30-yarder from Edwin Andersson.
Brighton survive and surprise
Yet just like in the first half, the visitors survived, resettled and found a response. Ifill was the goalscorer once again, capitalising on some miscommunication at the back to lift the ball over Adegoke and equalise for a second time.
Both sides had opportunities to snatch a winner, Soonsup-Bell firing straight at the keeper from the left before the Seagulls found their sucker punch five minutes from time when Emmerson curled an unstoppable strike into the far top corner.
Chelsea (3-4-3) Prince Adegoke; Charlie Wiggett, Brodi Hughes, Bashir Humphreys; Richard Olise (Josh Brooking 54), Ben Elliott (c), Charlie Webster, Derrick Abu (Leo Castledine 81); Dion Rankine, Jude Soonsup-Bell, Edwin Andersson (Silko Thomas 72)
Unused subs Ted Curd, Alex Kpakpe
Scorers Wiggett 2; Hughes 59
Booked Abu 28
Brighton & Hove Albion (4-4-2) Toby Bull; Casper Nilsson, Ben Jackson, Odel Offiah, Zak Sturge; Matt Everitt (c) (Jaami Qureshi 69), Toby Collyer, Samy Chouchane (Jack Hinshelwood 69), Andy Moran; Zak Emmerson, Marcus Ifill
Unused subs Todd Miller, Tommy Reid, Josh Duffus
Scorers Ifill 23, 77; Emmerson 85
Booked Jackson 26
Referee Valentine Anekwe