It was a tense and nervy day at Cobham, but our development squad stood strong and showed tremendous fight as substitutes Dion Rankine and Joe Haigh scored two vital goals which saw us secure safety on the final day of the season.
This was one of the most important days in our Academy’s history and our young Blues delivered with huge amounts of pressure on their shoulders. Prior to the game Andy Myers spoke about the importance of managing ups and downs and this game had both for the west London side.
The first half was very even with both sides cancelling each other out. Spurs had the clearest opportunity of the first period but Malang Sarr, drafted in from the senior team, made a timely block which ballooned the ball over the bar.
Besides that, the first half saw us be defensively strong despite not creating anything clear-cut. The second half was a very different spectacle. We started the second period aggressively and as we sought the first goal in the game, against the run of play from a corner, Kion Etete headed in to give the north London side the lead.
Myers made a double substitution, bringing on Lewis Hall and Rankine, who combined late on as the latter steered the ball into an empty net after Hall’s cross.
We pushed hard for the winner and, despite time-wasting antics from our opponents, we secured the winner through development squad debutant Mason Burstow, whose shot was parried into the open by the Spurs keeper and Joe Haigh, another substitute, slid in to grab the winner.
It was a rollercoaster of a game but a deserved victory from our development squad, as Leeds United are relegated from the PL2 alongside Derby County.
With the stakes being at their highest, there was no surprise to see some changes to the team. Trevoh Chalobah and Sarr were both drafted into the starting line-up to provide some experience to our young squad. There was also a start for January signing Burstow, whose loan to Charlton has now officially ended.
Brodi Hughes, Charlie Webster and Harvey Vale, fresh off winning the Under-18 Premier League Cup on Wednesday, were also all included in the line-up.
It took over 15 minutes for the game’s first chance and it was the away side who almost took the lead as Etete pounced on an error at the back, feeding Romaine Mundle but an excellent last-ditch tackle diverted his shot which looked like it was heading in, over the bar.
It was a nervous couple of minutes after that as Spurs were creating openings, but timely blocks were keeping the scores level.
We did have the ball in the back of the net through Vale as good play from Burstow, Dylan Williams and Bashir Humphreys released the young attacker, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
We were beginning to have a few sights at goal as Burstow and Ballo both had attempts that threatened the Tottenham defence but Thimothee Lo Tutala in goal had made no saves of note.
The first half fizzled out with no side really in the ascendancy and Sarr’s timely block being the most notable moment of the half.
We started the second half on the front-foot with some half-chances through Ballo who was played in by Chalobah on two occasions. It was clear that we had to force the initiative as it was a must-win game.
Our increased attacking threat almost cost us on the defensive end as a tackle on the line from Chalobah prevented a tap-in at the back post.
The unthinkable happened just before the hour mark as Lucas Bergstrom was caught in no man’s land in his attempt to claim from a corner. Etete had the easy job of heading into the net.
A switch in formation and a double change by Myers highlighted the fact two goals were now needed to avoid relegation. We had a huge opportunity to draw level as Webster’s cross-field ball to Rankine left him one-on-one with his opponent. He beat his man and fizzed in a fabulous ball which agonisingly missed the toe of Burstow.
We were getting closer but just could not find the decisive finish to get back on level terms. We were firmly in control as Spurs were sitting deep, protecting their lead.
Cue the fighting spirit
Our play got the goal it deserved, and it was the substitutes who combined as Hall drove into the box with purpose and delivered a low cross which Rankine tapped in.
We immediately had another opportunity as Vale fired from range but the Spurs shot-stopper did well to hold onto the firm shot.
Spurs were keeping the ball well in an attempt to run down the clock, but one slack pass was picked up by Hall who drove through the heart of the Spurs midfield. He was another who had won the Under-18 Premier League Cup this week and he laid it off to Burstow who set himself and fired goalwards, but Lo Tutala parried.
As his save was pushed out into the open and among the bodies it was Haigh who got the decisive touch, which turned the ball into the net. Huge relief.
With eight minutes added on there was still enough time for Spurs to have one last chance in the game. A well-worked move found Jamie Bowden on the edge of the area but his shot unopposed sailed harmlessly over.
The result means that we secured our spot in the PL2 for next season and can look forward to the future in the top-flight of academy football.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Lucas Bergstrom; Trevoh Chalobah, Bashir Humphreys (c), Malang Sarr; Dylan Williams (Lewis Hall 62), Xavier Simons (Dion Rankine 62), Charlie Webster Brodi Hughes; Thierno Ballo (Joe Haigh 65), Harvey Vale, Mason Burstow.
Unused subs: Ted Sharman-Lowe, Jayden Wareham
Scorers: Rankine 82, Haigh 88
Booked: Webster 36, Chalobah 90+1
Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-3-2): Thimothee Lo Tutala, Kallum Cesay, Dermi Lusala, Jamie Bowden, Marqes Muir (c) (Jaden Williams 90+1), Malachi Fagan-Walcott, Romaine Mundle, Nile John (Max Robson 81), Kion Etete, Alfie Devine (J’Neil Bennett 66), Yago Alonso.
Unused subs: Maksim Paskotsi, Josh Oluwayemi
Scorer: Etete 57
Booked: Muir 17, Bowden, Cesay 77, Robson 83