It’s now three wins and three defeats this academy season for Chelsea’s Under-18s, as they suffered a second consecutive away defeat on Saturday (and a third in four away games), falling 2-1 at Norwich City.
Coach Dermott Drummy had watched an Under-17 team lose 3-1 in midweek to the United States Under-17 team ahead of their World Cup, and made changes to last Saturday’s academy team which had beaten Watford. Out completely went Kaby, Conor Clifford, and Gokhan Tore, with the depleted Reserves on Tuesday possibly in mind, whilst there was no place for Milan Lalkovic, back from suspension. In came Tom Hayden for Danny Mills (who was a substitute), Ben Sampayo, George Saville, and Philipp Prosenik, with Billy Knott continuing at left-back. The young substitutes bench featured schoolboys Todd Kane and Nathaniel Chalobah for the first time.
Norwich were missing newly professional Jed Steer in goal, and so Peter Loveday deputised for him, but was to have a fairly quiet day. It was Chelsea, in their change colours of navy, who had the first opening but it came to nothing, and Norwich soon came into the action, with big striker Patrick Drmola getting on the end of a cross to force a fine save from Sam Walker. Remy Gordon and Josh Dawkin were causing problems down Chelsea’s right, where Billy Clifford had moved into midfield ahead of Sampayo.
Danny Kelly then shot wide as Norwich were very much on top, but Loveday was kept alert at the other end by a rasping drive from Clifford which went just over. Chelsea looked more dangerous as the half went on and with a minute left until half-time took the lead through an unlikely source. A corner was poorly cleared to the edge of the area, where Kenny Strickland met the ball with a clean and crisp strike to rifle it into the back of the net.
Typically though, and deservedly, Norwich were level within a minute. George Francombe’s ball found Kelly, who in turn found Drmola, and his effort from the edge of the area beat Walker into the bottom corner with the aid of a slight deflection. It meant the half time score was one apiece with work for Chelsea to do, and Drummy set about it by introducing Mills for Hayden to counter Drmola’s physical presence.
The second half started with Devyne going close, but as like the rest of the game, when Chelsea had a chance, the hosts had one of their own and Francombe sent an effort just over the bar. Substitute Ryan Oakley then drew another fabulous save from Walker, who has had a quite brilliant start to the season, but contrived to miss an easier one shortly after. Also missing a sitter was Marko Mitrovic at the other end, somehow putting the ball wide from just three yards. For all of his goals, Mitrovic occasionally misses a really easy chance, and given his prolific nature, it’s quite baffling.
With fifteen minutes left, Norwich got the goal which sealed their victory. Johnbull Osemwegie came through a crowd in the middle of the park with the ball and played Kelly in again. Walker made yet another save but could do nothing but watch on agonisingly as Francombe rolled the rebound into an unguarded net.
Chelsea set about giving their all to try and find the equaliser, with Aziz Deen-Conteh keeping up his odd record of appearing as a sub in every game this season, but they couldn’t find what they desired. Instead, Matthew Ball nearly made it three at the other end, curling a crossed effort against the post before it was scrambled off the line.
So it was to end in defeat, but with some positives from a young team. They’re still well positioned early in the campaign and defensively look better than last season with arguably inferior players, but the away record will need to be addressed if the team harbours hopes of collective success alongside individual development.
Team: Walker, Sampayo, Hayden (Mills 45), Strickland, Knott, Saville, B. Clifford, McEachran (Deen-Conteh 85), Devyne, Prosenik, Mitrovic
Subs Not Used: Haxhia, Kane, Chalobah
Goals: Strickland 44