We bowed out of the Under-18 Premier League Cup at the semi-final stage after defeat at Stoke this morning.
The team battled up until the final whistle to try and earn something from the game in Staffordshire. George Nunn opened the scores for the Blues in the seventh minute at the end of a well-worked counter-attack but we were pegged back 10 minutes before the break. In difficult conditions, we held the hosts up until the 105th minute when Stoke's constant attacking threat eventually separated the teams and was the difference that mattered. Ed Brand and his team can be proud of their efforts this morning.
It was a young Under-18s eleven and we started off with two changes to the team that beat Newcastle. Josh Brooking was on the right of the defensive trio in place of Lewis Bate, meaning Bashir Humphreys slotted into central midfield. While Harvey Vale was in at left wing-back from the first whistle in place of Samuel Iling-Junior.
Conditions couldn’t have been worse at kick-off, with the heavens opening as the referee blew his whistle but it didn’t dampen the spirits as both teams made a lively start. We were first to be rewarded for our play and took the lead after seven minutes thanks to Nunn.
Charlie Webster started the move in midfield and found Myles Peart-Harris upfield. Stoke keeper Nathan Broome closed down the angle but our attacker was quickest to the ball and squared for Nunn to tap into an empty net for the opener. It was a great start from the Blues.
There was little to report on after Nunn’s goal and after 20 minutes Chelsea looked to be in control. A half-chance through Dion Rankine was smothered by Broome at his near post and it seemed to give the home side a boost.
Stoke had two very good chances as the half-hour mark neared. The first was poked wide by captain Adam Porter under great pressure from wing-back Harvey Vale.
The next came as the hosts had momentum on their side, it was their second chance in as many minutes and it presented an even better opportunity than the first. Forward Mo Sankoh was picked out through a gap in our defence and had just Jake Askew to beat but the keeper did well to make himself big and get a right hand to the shot.
Stoke were hungry for a goal and threatened through Porter again but, quite like his earlier shot, Askew was alert and equal to the attempt, making a high-flying save to tip the ball over the target.
The home team’s persistence paid off however and Sankoh was sure to make the most of his next sight at goal. The ball fell to the lively forward just outside of the box, he rounded Askew and tucked away from a tight angle. We were level at the break with it all to play for in the second half.
Stoke had a golden chance to take the lead straight after the restart. Sankoh had the ball in the box and squared for his strike partner Andre Godfrinne, whose first-time attempt cleared the target, much to Chelsea’s luck. That was a huge let-off.
Conditions were deteriorating as we reached 60 minutes and both teams were struggling to piece together quality attacks. It was evident as the Blues lost possession in their own half, allowing forward Godfrinne to let fly - thankfully the ball cannoned back off the woodwork and away from danger.
Like his strike partner, Godfrinne was a constant threat and forced the busy Askew into two saves from close range. Boss Brand recognised the need for a change and introduced Luke Badley-Morgan and Jude Soonsup-Bell in place of Charlie Wiggett and goalscorer Nunn respectively.
We were having to do a lot of defending but our backline were certainly standing up to the challenge against a very physical Stoke team and there was a third Chelsea change after 76 minutes. Ben Elliott replaced Peart-Harris in a like-for-like swap as we looked to inject some energy back into the team.
Stoke midfielder Lewis Macari flashed a shot wide of the target with just two minutes of normal time left, the chance coming after we only partially cleared a deep Stoke free-kick - that was before Marcel Lewis had the chance to snatch a place in the final with the best opportunity of the half. The tricky midfield man found space on the edge of the box but couldn’t steer his attempt on target as he tried to bend the ball around Broome.
That proved to be the last bit of action in normal time, therefore an extra 30 minutes of play was signalled to decide a winner.
A minute before the end of the first period of extra time, Stoke found a breakthrough. Sankoh, who had been a handful all afternoon, powered into the box and thumped home from close range. It was a huge blow for the Blues, who had worked well up until that point.
The Stoke forward thought he had completed his hat-trick as we began the final period of the second half. He again found the net from a tight angle but the official on the near side had his flag raised for offside, cutting short the home celebrations.
Deep into extra time, Lewis’ floated free-kick was spilled by Bromme and dropped at the feet of Webster who struck at goal from distance. His attempt, through a sea of bodies in the box, deflected wide of the target and out of play. The midfielder was agonisingly close to his first goal for the youth team.
It proved to be the final scoring attempt of the game as full-time was singalled. The Blues can be proud of their attempts in the Premier League Cup this season, bowing out at the semi-final stage.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Jake Askew; Josh Brooking, Sam McClelland (c), Charlie Wiggett (Luke Badley-Morgan 65); Dion Rankine, Bashir Humphreys, Charlie Webster, Harvey Vale; Marcel Lewis, Myles Peart-Harris (Ben Elliott 76); George Nunn (Jude Soonsup-Bell 65)Unused subs Pierre Ekwah Elimby, Ethan Wady, Ben ElliottBooked Nunn 45, Soonsup-Bell 73Scorer Nunn 7
Stoke Nathan Broome, Kieran Coates, Edward Jones, Dan Malone, Mo Akandji, Lewis Macari, Reece Jones (Ethon Varian-Discoll 99), Adam Porter (c), Mo Sanko, Andre Godfrinne, Pat Jarrett (Tom Sparrow 104)Unused subs Connor Tylor, Paul Cooper, Jay VermaBooked Akandji (45)Scorer Sankoh 35, 105