Chelsea fell just short of the national title in a narrow defeat to Manchester United in a very even game at Stamford Bridge, which we were on top of for spells but couldn’t find the chance we needed to take the final to extra time.

The Blues spent much of the game trailing on the scoreline, but were very much equal to our opponents on the balance of play, as the northern and southern Under-18 Premier League champions went head to head in SW6 for the national title.

It was an even first half which Chelsea just about edged for a long period, but by the time we hit our stride it was Manchester United who had found a goal during the opening 45 minutes, Ethan Wheatley slotting in after a loose ball fell kindly for the away side in transition, and they took full advantage.

Tyrique George had a shot cleared off the line as we finished the first half strongly, but there was to be no equaliser before the break as United's defence proved a tough nut to crack.

Josh Acheampong headed us level right at the start of the second half, but Man Utd hit back themselves to retake the lead. We had more than half-an-hour to find a second equaliser, but were up against a very compact and well organised defence, which made space and chances hard to find.

It wasn’t to be our night, but our Under-18s can still hold their heads high at the end of a trophy-winning season.

Five minutes in it looked like Chelsea may have been starting the game with the cooler heads. That was summed up when Habeeb Ogunneye received the first yellow card for cynically dragging down Reiss Denny after several attempts, and then Frankie Runham drew the first save of the game when the resulting free-kick led to Ato Ampah delivering a dangerous cross from the right.

Warning not heeded

There was no doubting the threat carried by our opponents, though, who won the northern section of the Under-18 Premier League comfortably. Initially it came from a long ball over the top for Wheatley. Max Merrick got just about enough on the shot, as it squirmed under him and came back off the post.

Wheatley did then have the ball in the net shortly afterwards, but the flag had already gone up for offside and the other players had long since stopped. We weathered that small spell, but it showed how sharp we would need to be at the back as the game began to open up a bit following a cagey start.

Unfortunately, the visitors' threat did give them the opening goal through Wheatley. It came as we got caught in transition, a tackle on the halfway line breaking fortunately for Man Utd to give them a two-on-two near our box. From there, one pass was all it needed to put the striker through with time to pick his spot.

Blues respond

We tried to hit back, and George couldn’t have come any closer to a quick reply. Denny did well to make space on the left for a low cross, which was deflected invitingly towards George on the edge of the box by a defender. Our No10 struck his first-time shot as sweetly as you like and it beat the keeper, but Louis Jackson slid out of nowhere to clear from under the crossbar.

That started Chelsea’s best spell of the game so far, with prolonged spells of possession and plenty of it in the opposition’s half, but as we approached half-time the closest we came was when Ampah’s deflected cross had the keeper backpedalling. It landed the wrong side of the bar and we went in for the break trailing by a single goal.

That didn’t last for long once the second half began, as it was less than two minutes old when we pulled ourselves level. It wasn’t the cleanest of finishes when Acheampong got his head on the end of George’s inviting cross, sending it down into the turf, but it was enough to bounce up and beat the keeper on its way into the back of the net.

It nearly got better, when many of those inside Stamford Bridge thought Donnell McNeilly had given us the lead from a George through-pass, but his shot had only found the side-netting.

As you were

Instead, we found ourselves behind again 10 minutes into the second half. It was harsh on Kaiden Wilson, who had done well to block the initial shot in the box, but the ricochet bounced up kindly for Williams, wrongfooting Merrick and giving the United winger a simple chance to tap in from a few yards out.

We then had Merrick to thank for preventing Chelsea from falling further behind, as he produced a good save to his left to deny Wheatley after the striker had weaved his way into the box.

The game then largely returned to the pattern of much of the first half, with the Blues behind on the scoreboard, ahead on possession, but struggling to find the clear-cut chance which would level it, although George forced a good near-post save from the keeper with a low drive from outside the area.

Hassan Sulaiman turned to his bench in a bid to change that, with Shumaira Mheuka and Genesis Antwi being introduced in place of Frankie Runham and Kaiden Wilson, but we still trailed 2-1 going into the last 10 minutes.

Chelsea kept pushing valiantly right to the end. There were a couple of occasions when it looked like things might open up for us in the box to find a second equaliser, but it wasn’t to be, and in truth Man Utd looked the more likely to score late on as they squandered good chances to counter.

However, even if we couldn’t overcome the final hurdle, the Blues can still be proud of a good campaign which saw a young squad win the Under-18 Premier League southern title and provide plenty of promise for the future.

The Teams

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Max Merrick; Josh Acheampong, Harrison Murray-Campbell, Kaiden Wilson (Genesis Antwi 72), Ishe Samuels-Smith (Somto Boniface 90+6); Ollie Harrison, Reiss Denny (c); Ato Ampah (Shaun Wade 86), Tyrique George, Frankie Runham (Shumaira Mheuka 72); Donnell McNeilly
Unused sub: Luke Campbell
Scorer: Acheampong 47
Booked: Wilson 50

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Elyh Harrison; Habeeb Ogunneye (James Nolan h-t), Louis Jackson, Jack Kingdon, Harry Amass; Ruben Curley, Finley McAllister (c) (Jacob Devaney 61); James Scanlon (Malachi Sharpe 73), Jack Fletcher, Ethan Williams (Gabriele Biancheri 83); Ethan Wheatley
Unused sub: Tom Myles
Scorers: Wheatley 21, Williams 55
Booked: Ogunneye 6, Wheatley 88