Our development squad continued their unbeaten start to the season and returned to the top of the Premier League 2 table as goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi and Clinton Mola secured victory at St Mary’s.
Reece James and Hudson-Odoi both came through 75 minutes of a battling encounter, with the latter opening the scoring for Andy Myers’s side just before the hour mark. Mola then doubled our lead 13 minutes later with a header that was adjudged by the officials to have crossed the line by inches.
Jamie Cumming made important saves in goal to preserve a third PL2 clean sheet of the season, while James also hit the crossbar with a header as the young Blues grew stronger in the contest to record a deserved victory.
The three points take us two clear of Everton and Arsenal, winners of the past three league titles, and continue an excellent start to the season for the team. There is a quick turnaround for our next outing, which comes at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday in the EFL Trophy.
While Hudson-Odoi and James started once again in the latest step of their injury comebacks, there were five other changes from our last PL2 outing, a 2-1 win against Brighton at Stamford Bridge eight days previously.
Billy Gilmour was the most notable returnee, with the Scotland Under-21 international and recent senior debutant having recovered from a groin strain to start alongside George McEachran in central midfield.
Cumming replaced Nicolas Tie in goal, Ian Maatsen came into the team at left-back, while both Thierno Ballo and Marcel Lavinier lined up in forward positions after featuring as substitutes against the Seagulls.
There has been an increased interest in the work of our Academy this season following Frank Lampard’s use of the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori, and the efforts of those players to take their opportunities so impressively.
However, Lampard reiterated in his Friday press conference that there was plenty of young talent that had yet to reach the mainstream and the next crop of young Blues have certainly started the season in fine form, coming into this latest league encounter unbeaten in six matches in all competitions at the start of the 2019/20 campaign.
It was at St Mary’s the previous evening where three former graduates of the Chelsea Academy started in the Premier League (Nathan Ake, Dominic Solanke and Ryan Bertrand), while the Saints PL2 team contained four youngsters who had spent time in our youth development programme, highlighting the extent of the system’s productivity.
Southampton had the best chance of the first 25 minutes as a teasing cross from left-back Jake Vokins caused problems in our six-yard box when Maatsen miscued an effort to turn the ball behind. Dan N’Lundulu was lurking for the hosts but Cumming dived bravely at the striker’s feet and the ball was eventually smuggled to safety.
It was a similar set-up that saw James conjure a sight at goal for Charlie Brown, with the defender’s delivery invitingly swung into the path of our number nine, though Brown missed the target on his weaker right side.
The Blues got better as the half wore on and Hudson-Odoi’s influence grew, with a clutch of chances coming before the break for the teenage forward. He was denied by Harry Lewis after 36 minutes as the home keeper pushed a stinging drive over the bar, before firing narrowly wide on two occasions. The second of those openings came at the end of a neat Chelsea move and Brown’s tee-up, though the final effort flew just the wrong side of the far post.
It was a half with plenty of stoppages due to injury and collisions, with the Saints forced into a change midway through the first period, and the five minutes of added time gave the home team one last chance before the break. It proved a let-off for Myers’s men as Jankewitz thumped the base of Cumming’s post from distance.
The Blues restarted with a slight reshuffle as Lavinier switched to left-back, Maatsen moved into midfield and Ballo went out to the right wing. Hudson-Odoi was thwarted by a hefty but fair sliding challenge in the box from Kayne Ramsay, an age group peer of his in the Chelsea Academy, but it was Cumming down the other end forced into an impressive save to keep the score level.
Harlem Hale’s clever run saw him advance into space behind the Blues defence down the right and his ball into the box fell nicely for N’Lundulu, who poked an effort towards goal from 10 yards out. Cumming’s anticipation and instincts proved decisive as he stood tall before making the save with his feet.
That stop became even more significant when the visitors took the lead eight minutes later. Hudson-Odoi had snuck in a couple of times from the left flank before finally receiving the pass he needed from Gilmour, an assist with perfect weighting that gave our Wandsworth winger the chance to steer the ball beyond the onrushing goalkeeper.
Right before that breakthrough goal, Hudson-Odoi had turned provider with a deep corner towards James, whose looping header bounced on to the top of the crossbar and behind. Southampton suffered the same misfortune moments later when Aaron O’Driscoll’s header clipped the top of Cumming’s woodwork, while a bright spell for the hosts also Vokins shoot just off-target.
The Chelsea cushion was soon doubled to give Radhi Jaidi’s side a mountain to climb in the final 20 minutes. Another corner caused the danger as Lewis flapped at the high delivery and James dinked the ball back into the six-yard box for Mola to nod goalwards. While a defender on the line appeared to have cleared the danger, the assistant on the far side ruled the ball had crossed the line and the visitors had a 2-0 lead.
Hudson-Odoi and James were withdrawn after 75 minutes, though not before the former had tested Lewis again at the end of a mazy solo run. The forward left defenders in his wake but could not beat the keeper for a second time as a strong hand kept his attempt out.
Tino Anjorin, one of our arrivals, was close to recording an instant impact and adding a third but his deflected strike bounced up kindly for Lewis to grasp. It meant the Blues had to settle for a pair of goals but all three points in the south coast sunshine.
Next up for the team is Bristol Rovers on Tuesday, although such an impressive start to the season could well open doors for Wednesday’s League Cup tie against Grimsby.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Jamie Cumming; Reece James (Henry Lawrence 76), Marc Guehi (c), Clinton Mola, Ian Maatsen; Billy Gilmour (Jon Russell 66), George McEachran; Marcel Lavinier, Thierno Ballo, Callum Hudson-Odoi (Tino Anjorin 76); Charlie BrownUnused subs Jack Wakely, Karlo ZigerScorers Hudson-Odoi 57; Mola 70Booked Maatsen
Southampton Harry Lewis, Kayne Ramsay, Jake Vokins (Christian Norton 84), Pascal Kpohomouh (Kameron Ledwidge 23), Aaron O’Driscoll, Christoph Klarer, Callum Slattery (c), Alex Jankewitz, Dan N’Lundulu, Lucas Defise, Harlem Hale (Kornelius Hansen 70)Unused subs Jack Bycroft, Jack TurnerReferee Sam AllisonCrowd 1,325