Fulham managed to end Chelsea’s unbeaten season at Under-18 level on Wednesday when they welcomed their West London rivals to Motspur Park.
Chelsea had already claimed top spot in the Barclays U18 Premier League National Group 3 ahead of the game and Fulham had guaranteed second place, but whilst the game wouldn’t affect league standings, it was another opportunity for the young players to showcase their talent.
Goals from Moussa Dembele and a fine Muamer Tankovic strike had put the Whites in control of the game, although Connor Hunte netted a consolation to ensure a nervy finale.
Much of the first half had an end-of-term feel to it as both teams looked predictably strong defensively, but the football played lacked the kind of quality that they have each produced this season.
The travelling team initially dominated possession in the early stages as Fulham’s youngsters gradually played their way into the game, and the Chelsea players appealed for a penalty in the 25th minute when full-back Kevin Wright fell to the ground under Ryheem Sheckleford’s challenge. The referee awarded the away side only a corner kick, much to the dismay of stand-in Chelsea coach Joe Edwards.
In a half that saw very few clear chances for either side, Fulham’s Tankovic triggered the opening goal on the brink of the break. The Swedish forward received a short corner before playing a neat one-two and crossing for Dembele to score the game’s first goal. Dembele, unusually quiet up to that point, took his chance well with a one-touch finish into the Chelsea net.
At the end of a fairly lacklustre 45 minutes, a goal on half-time set the pace for the second period. Fulham doubled their lead minutes after the break and once again Tankovic was involved, this time as scorer. The forward’s strike from the edge of Chelsea’s box flew into the top corner, leaving Blues goalkeeper Ben Killip with no chance of preventing the 2-0 lead.
Chelsea settled well from that point and clawed their way back into the game through winger Hunte. Hunte latched onto a through ball from Jordan Houghton before calmly slotting past Fulham goalkeeper Billy Granger.
The Whites threatened to restore their two-goal lead minutes later when Dean O’Halloran’s effort forced Chelsea keeper Killip into action once again, reaching down to his far post to concede only a corner.
Fulham Manager Steve Wigley made three substitutions in the 65th minute, giving valuable game time to schoolboy debutants Aaron Redford, Mekhi Leacock-McLeod and Magnus Norman, who replaced Dembele, O’Halloran and Granger respectively. Chelsea responded by bringing on an Under-16 of their own in midfielder Charlie Colkett.
The game became more open in the latter stages as Chelsea pressed for an equaliser, presenting further chances for the home side. Jordan Evans misplaced a shot wide, whilst Lyle Della Verde hit the post and Liam Donnelly saw his header tipped superbly over the bar.
The final few minutes saw most of the action around Fulham’s box as a number of equalising opportunities were missed by the away side.
But the young Whites held on to record a good victory against a Chelsea side who have only dropped four points all season. Fulham’s U18s finish the calendar year with eight wins out of 12 in the league and an FA Youth Cup Fourth Round Tie against Arsenal to look forward to in January.