A vastly weakened Chelsea Under-18 team travelled to Southampton this weekend looking to start improving on a dismal away record which has seen them take just three points from a possible twelve so far this season, but fell short on the road once again. For the second week in a row Dermott Drummy’s boys were involved in a 4-3 scoreline, this time losing at impressive Southampton.
With a host of players absent on international duty – particularly forwards Lalkovic, Prosenik and Mitrovic – Drummy had some shuffling to do. He gave Aldi Haxhia a first competitive appearance of the season in goal, whilst Danny Mills returned to the starting ranks alongside ever-present Kenny Strickland in defence. Anton Rodgers – fresh from international leave himself – started his first game of the season in a midfield with Kaby and Josh McEachran, who will now both leave for national representation, whilst athletic defender Aziz Deen-Conteh started in a more attacking role alongside Bobby Devyne. Aziz has played on the left of a front three before, but never quite as a more typical forward.
For the makeshift line-up, things started pretty well. Just three minutes were on the clock when a Chelsea shot was blocked and followed up by the lively Devyne, who swept into the back of the net for his first of the campaign. The lead wasn’t to last long though, with the hosts bringing the scores level through the profilic Jordace Holder-Spooner, who cut inside from the left before adjusting to shape a left-footed effort beyond Haxhia’s reach high into the goal.
The game settled down again with Southampton looking to press and seize the initiative, but they found themselves facing a deficit again shortly before the half hour mark. McEachran has been developing his free-kick taking ability of late, scoring a stunning goal against Bristol City in pre-season and going close once or twice in the last few weeks, and he got it spot on this time, bending a beauty beyond the helpless Jack Dovey.
Yet, in similar fashion to last week’s thriller at home to Fulham, the first half was to continue merrily on its goal-friendly way, with Southampton equalising again through Holdace-Spooner, who benefitted from some fine approach play by Daryl McLean (brother of Peterborough striker Aaron) to allow him to slot past Haxhia. Whereas last week’s first period gave us five goals, we were to have to settle for just the four this weekend, with both teams content to see the remainder of the first half out and work on their defensive frailties at the break.
Chelsea came out fresh and with a vigorous attitude, and it served to benefit them as they grabbed a penalty early into the second half courtesy of a poor foul by defender Ciaran Harper. Billy Knott – still at left-back – coolly slotted into the back of the net for his second goal of the season and Chelsea’s third lead of the game. Just like the previous two though, they couldn’t hold on to it.
Southampton refused to panic and continued to play their game, confident of finding yet another equaliser, and were rewarded for their patience when Sam Hoskins rose to head home Ben Reeves’ free-kick at the far post for his third of the season. With that the momentum was truly with the hosts and with Chelsea tiring – having only Tom Hayden as a recognised experienced substitute – the inevitable happened. Talented playmaker Sam Argent slipped a beautiful through ball in behind the Chelsea defence and Hoskins was able to do the rest for his second and the game-clinching goal with just five minutes remaining. It marked only their second win of the season, a statistic which belies their ability and potential, for Southampton’s has long been a talented and productive academy.
For Chelsea, three goals away from home is impressive, but defensive frailties have crept back into their game after an impressive start to the campaign. Last season was often derailed by a leaky back line and no clean sheet in the last seven friendly and competitive games combined is food for thought for Drummy. On the plus side there are a number of growing impressive performances, notably from George Saville and Billy Knott in developmental positions, whilst twelve different players have already made their mark on the scoresheet, suggesting goals run right through this team.
The Under-18s will look to get back to winning ways back at Cobham, where they have a 100% record so far, next Saturday at home to Charlton Athletic, who typically do not fare well when travelling to leafy Surrey. It may well be another depleted line-up with midweek internationals, which you can also read about throughout the week on CFCnet and on Twitter @chelseayouth.
Team: Haxhia, B.Clifford (c), Mills, Strickland, Knott, Saville, McEachran, Kaby, Rodgers (Hayden 45), Deen-Conteh, Devyne
Goals: Devyne, McEachran, Knott (pen)