Chelsea returned to Under 18 action on Saturday morning after a brief break for Christmas with a dramatic late 3-2 victory over London rivals West Ham. The game took a remarkable turn after half-time, with all the goals coming in the second 45 minutes, including a penalty in the closing stages.Niclas Heimann returned to the Chelsea goal, whilst Nikki Ahmed filled in again at right-back, with captain Ofori moving across to centre-back with Jack Saville out injured. Michael Woods dropped down to the Under-18s for a rare outing as he paired up with Daniel Philliskirk in the centre of a 4-2-3-1 formation. West Ham’s team featured England Under-17 captain Jordan Spence and prolific striker Freddie Sears.
The game started slowly and didn’t really get much better for the first half. A late start didn’t help matters but both teams struggled to get their games going, lacking half a yard of match sharpness after the winter break. Chelsea were having some success along the flanks, with Ben Gordon and Adam Phillip linking particularly well along the left, but by and large the first half was completely unremarkable and the game appeared to be heading towards the 0-0 that took place at Cobham in this fixture last season.
So what followed in the second half was something of a surprise. Neither team made any personnel changes but within ten minutes Chelsea had the lead. Kakuta collected the ball just inside the West Ham half and drove towards the edge of the box in a central position. He looked around for an option that never arrived, so he cut inside his man and unleashed a low and powerful left-footed effort that beat Marek Stech inside his left post.
The goal, as ever, gave confidence and life to the home team and in particular Frank Nouble, who was making things happen down the right, using his pace and skill to full effect. They nearly doubled their lead when a quite sumptuous through ball with the outside of Nikki Ahmed’s right foot found Adam Phillip at the far post, but he could only steer his shot onto the woodwork and away. Unfortunately for Chelsea, West Ham equalised some ten minutes later from a set piece. The free kick itself was close to the halfway line but the Hammers sent their big centre-backs up and won the first header. The ball dropped to the head of Sears, who shows his clinical nature by looping the ball over Heimann and into the back of the net.
That goal was the start of a flurry of three goals in just over five minutes. Chelsea went and took the lead again within 3 minutes, as Kakuta’s corner was turned away from Tabor but unfortunately into his own net by the West Ham defender. Then West Ham equalised from another set piece, this time a deep ball to the far post was met by an unmarked header inside Heimann’s near post, and the scores were level again as both teams tried to settle on the new situation they found the game in.
The game settled back down but was to finish in spectacular fashion. Jordan Tabor took on his opposing full-back and just managed to nudge the ball beyond him before being upended in the penalty area. Up stepped captain Ofori, a regular penalty taker, to score and give his team a win they possibly deserved, but in all truth any of the possible results could have been considered fair on the day.
From a Chelsea point of view, Philliskirk and Woods did well in the middle of the team whilst Nouble and Phillip were excellent on the wings all day. Kakuta once again was influential in pulling the strings, adding a goal and an assist to his season tallies. Fabio Borini was quiet and ineffective, and Jeffrey Bruma had probably his worst performance in a Chelsea shirt – in the first half his touch and confidence disappeared. He had a much better second half and looked more like the wonderful player he is.
Team: Heimann, Ahmed, Ofori ©, Bruma, Gordon, Philliskirk (King 85), Woods, Kakuta, Phillip, Nouble (Mellis 80), Borini (Tabor 60)
Goals: Kakuta ’56, Own Goal ’65, Ofori ’82 pen