For the second pre-season game in a row Chelsea’s Under 18s played in an entertaining affair which ultimately ended in stalemate. Saturday’s game had less of the drama of last Friday’s game against QPR but was still high on quality – although the Blues can consider themselves lucky not to lose after Albion hit the woodwork three times.Paul Clement returned to the dugout after spending last weekend with the Reserves and made a handful of changes. Niclas Heimann started in goal, with Ben Gordon returning from injury at left-back. Jacopo Sala replaced Frank Nouble out on the right, and Daniel Philliskirk came back from reserve duty to captain the side. Last weekend’s Uruguyan trialist Jhon Pirez did not feature.
Brighton pressed from the off, closing down everything with impressive fitness. Chelsea had all of the ball, but found it hard to break through. The first chance came after just ten minutes, a wonderful cross from Hibbert on the left found Fabio Borini’s head, but it was an easy save for the keeper. The Italian had another chance a few minutes later, driving past the last defender but shooting high and wide from a tough angle.
It really was all Chelsea, with Brighton resorting to long balls which didn’t worry Vincenzo Camilleri or Jack Saville. Sala was causing mayhem along the right wing, beating his man time and again, and it was he who came closest to opening the scoring, slicing a cross towards the goal and hitting the crossbar.
However, it wasn’t just Chelsea that hit the woodwork. In the space of five minutes Brighton hit Heimann’s crossbar twice as they came into the game more. First, a deft free kick from 35 yards out was flicked on and clipped the bar with the German stopper rooted to the spot, then some fine play down the left provided a cross for Liam Upton, but he could only smash the ball onto the goalframe from eight yards out, before Camilleri cleared the rebound off the line.
To their credit, the Seagulls took advantage of the swing in momentum, and with almost the last kick of the first half took the lead. A debatable free kick was awarded on the Chelsea by-line, and again it was taken rather deftly. Heimann came and missed, leaving the ball to be scrambled over the line from close range.
After a long half-time team talk from Paul Clement, and the replacement of Saville with Billy-Joe King, Chelsea hit back inside five minutes of the restart. Jordan Tabor’s corner went through the hands of the substitute Brighton goalkeeper (wearing a training shirt) and allowed Borini to volley home from a tight angle.
Confidence was flowing from the boys in blue now as they sensed more goals for the taking. Hibbert and Clifford both had long-range efforts go high over the bar, and they earned corner after corner making strong forays down both flanks. Borini was having a superb game leading the line but his finishing just let him down a little. Just after the hour he found himself one on one with the keeper, but his shot was well saved.
Substitutes started to roll in from the Chelsea bench, as Tom Hayden, Milan Lalkovic, and Rohan Ince were given action, and Hayden almost made an immediate impact. Sala held the ball up before playing in the new first year scholar on the overlap, but his shot was wide. Sala then caused more trouble down the left and provided a perfect cross for Hibbert, who arrived on time but sent the ball high and wide on the volley.
For much of the half the game took on the same characteristics as the QPR game from last week – the home team piling on the pressure whilst still slightly vulnerable on the break. This proved to be the case again with ten minutes to go, as Brighton forced their way through having taken a quick free kick, but this time the post came to Chelsea’s rescue.
Borini went close twice more and Lalkovic had a chance to shoot but chose to instead pass, but for all the pressure, the visiting goalkeeper barely had to extend himself fully. The game drew to a 1-1 scoreline at the close with a lot of positives to take from the game. The new formation with two deep-lying midfielders in Clifford and Hibbert with two wider players and one supporting a lone striker looked like a winning formula. Hibbert was impressive again, whilst Borini continued his fine pre-season by looking as impressive as he ever has. Jacopo Sala was a constant threat on the wings, and another cameo from Milan Lalkovic was impressive.
The Under 18s continue their pre-season next Saturday with an away visit to Middlesbrough.
Team: Heimann, Ahmed (Hayden 60), Camilleri (Ince 77), Saville (King 45), Gordon, Clifford (Lalkovic 65), Hibbert, Sala, Tabor, Philliskirk ©, Borini
Goals: Borini 48