The Under-18s continued our excellent start to the season at Academy level by getting a fourth win in as many matches, defeating Aston Villa thanks to a solitary fist-half goal scored by Armando Broja.
In an evenly matched encounter at Cobham, with plenty of open spells at both ends of the pitch, the points were decided when Broja extended his prolific run of form in front of goal during the early stages of this campaign.
It was a goal largely of the striker’s own making, as he picked up the ball just inside the penalty area on the left-hand side and rode the challenges of the Villa defenders as he carried possession across goal waiting for his opportunity, before sliding the ball past the goalkeeper to give us the lead and, eventually, the win.
Ed Brand made two changes from the 1-0 win over Southampton in the previous match, with Dynel Simeu dropping out, meaning Levi Colwill moved into the back three alongside skipper Sam McClelland and Bashir Humphreys, while Jake Askew retained his place in goal.
In midfield, Valentino Livramento moved back to the right side with James Clark coming in on the left and Lewis Bate partnered in the centre by Pierre Ekwah Elimby, as Henry Lawrence featured from the start for the development squad the previous evening.
The front three remained the same from the Southampton game, with Armando Broja supported by Marcel Lewis and Dion Rankine, despite Broja and Lewis both making late substitute appearances in the Premier League 2 on Friday.
The first sight of goal fell to the visitors, as some slick passing released Kaine Kesler down the right and his looping cross was brought down by Harrison Sohna, but he couldn’t control the shot and it was never troubling Askew.
However, we soon started our first spell of dominance, with several crosses flashing through the Aston Villa penalty area but frustratingly not finding a blue shirt.
The frustration continued as Broja was flagged offside twice in quick succession when he looked like he’d been set through on goal, but Villa’s Jaden Philogene-Bidace suffered the same fate when he thought he had evaded the clutches of McClelland to get on the end of a long ball over the top.
Rankine and Bate were both starting to cause the Villa defenders plenty of problems, jinking their way through defenders, but it was Broja who opened the scoring as the match approached the 20-minute mark.
The striker picked up the ball and glided past the Villa challenges in the box as he came in from the left-hand side, patiently waiting for his shooting chance before placing the ball past goalkeeper Akos Onodi.
It was a bitter blow for the visitors, who had come agonisingly close to getting the first goal themselves just moments earlier, but Aaron Ramsey’s rolled finish didn’t have enough power on it, allowing Colwill to comfortably retrieve the ball and start a counter-attack despite Askew being beaten after getting to the long ball second.
In the 25th minute it was Chelsea’s turn to have a shot cleared off the line. Livramento drove towards goal at the end of an excellent counter-attack also involving Broja and Humphreys, but the keeper got a hand to his near-post finish, taking the pace off it and giving the defender Mo Sylla a chance to slide the ball away from goal at the last second.
There was bad news as Brand was forced to make his first change just shy of half-an-hour into the game, as Lewis was unable to shake off an earlier knock despite lengthy treatment, meaning he needed to be replaced by Xavier Simons.
Rankine’s direct running was continuing to cause plenty of issues for the Villa defence, testing the keeper with a curling effort at the near post, after driving at the back line and taking on a shot from just outside the box.
It didn't take Simons long to come close to getting his name on the score sheet, getting on the end of Clark’s low cross at the back post, but his shot was blocked by a combination of goalkeeper and two defenders in a crowded six-yard box.
The Villa defending was starting to look a bit desperate as we approached the break, needing big blocks to stop shots from the edge of the box by Simons and Broja.
Despite enjoying arguably our best spell of possession so far, the only chance we managed to create before the break was a looping Broja header, which was comfortably dealt with by the goalkeeper.
Chelsea kicked off the second half and went on the offensive right away, with Rankine being denied at the near post from close range before the defenders scrambled the ball behind for a corner.
However, Villa were showing a threat of their own, using their abundance of pace in attacking position to launch dangerous counters with long balls forward at every opportunity.
That approach almost gave them an equaliser, as Kesler ran at the Chelsea defence and skipped over three challenges, but Askew was a match for his powerful finish, beating the ball away to maintain our lead.
There was a moment of controversy in the Villa box, when Clark fell to the floor as he charged across goal, following an excellent passing move between him and Rankine on the left, but the referee decided he had gone to ground too easily and issued the Chelsea man the game’s first yellow card. He was joined in the book by Villa’s Hayden Lindley less than a minute later for a cynical foul on Bate.
Rankine then went closer than anyone to getting the second goal, again taking on the defenders as he cut in from the wing before taking on the shot, but his deflected effort came back off the near post with the keeper beaten.
The was soon followed by Simons going close to extending our lead twice in quick succession, but he couldn’t find the target when teed up by Livramento just inside the box or when racing on to Ekwah Elimby’s headed interception under pressure from the defender.
Broja was next to test the goalkeeper, following more good work by Rankine. When two Villa players got in each other’s way trying to get on the end of a dangerous looking corner, Rankine picked up the ball and charged forward, before finding Broja’s run with an excellent chipped pass, but Onodi managed to tip away his low shot from an angle and scramble across to smother the rebound as Clark looked set to pounce.
With the game opening up, Brand chose to use both his two remaining substitutions to make a reshuffle. Ekwah Elimby was replaced by George Nunn, who took up a position behind the striker with Simons dropping back into midfield. The other change saw Clark replaced by Joe Haigh, who also slotted in as support for Broja, as Rankine moved out to the right and Colwill to the left, while Livramento joined the back three.
It certainly seemed to make a difference, as we enjoyed a healthy period of possession over the next 10 minutes, with Broja, Nunn and Haigh all trying to make the most of half chances in the box.
Simons had the goalkeeper at full stretch with eight minutes left on the clock, taking the invitation to drive out of midfield and let rip from distance, but his stinging low shot was tipped narrowly around the left-hand post.
There was a let-off for Chelsea though, as Pressley wasted an excellent chance by firing over after getting free to meet a low cross when McClelland slipped in the box.
Villa started to increase the pressure as they threw bodies forward in the closing stages, making a double substitution of their own to increase their attacking numbers, but on the rare occasions they did manage to create an opening, Askew was more than equal to it.
That meant we left the pitch at Cobham with a fourth victory from our opening four games in the Under-18 Premier League South, in addition to picking up a well deserved second consecutive clean sheet.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Jake Askew; Bashir Humphreys, Sam McClelland (c), Levi Colwill; Valentino Livramento, Pierre Ekwah Elimby (George Nunn 72), Lewis Bate, James Clark (Joe Haigh 72); Dion Rankine, Marcel Lewis (Xavier Simons 29); Armando Broja
Unused subs Charlie Wiggett, Lucas Bergstrom
Scorer Broja 18
Booked Clark 57
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1) Akos Onodi; Brad Burton, Mo Sylla (Paul Appiah 65), Myles Sohna, Seb Revan; Hayden Lindley, Harrison Sohna; Kaine Kesler (Brad Young 79), Aaron Ramsey (Charlie Farr 79), Jaden Philogene-Bidace; Aaron Pressley
Unused subs Argan Raikhy, Filip Marschall
Booked Lindley 58, Burton 79
-Match pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom