West Ham United U18s 1-3 Chelsea U18s
U18 Premier League South, Little Heath Sports Centre, Saturday 11 February 2023, 11am GMT
West Ham United U18s fell to a hard fought 3-1 defeat against Chelsea in the U18 Premier League South on Saturday.
The young Hammers were back in league action for the first time in two weeks, having impressively advanced to the quarter-finals of the Youth Cup last time out.
The West London opposition took an early lead through Donnell McNeilly before Callum Marshall scored a deserved equaliser midway through the first half.
McNeilly was on hand to score again after the break, restoring Chelsea's lead, and Tudor Mendel-Idowu netted Chelsea’s third with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Despite defeat, the young Irons are still 13 points clear at the top of the U18 Premier League South table, having won twelve of their opening fourteen matches.
U18s coach Gerard Prenderville suggested that the match was lost in key moments.
“We’ve spoken to the lads and we said that certain moments cost us today,” he told whufc.com. “We went 1-0 down in the first ten minutes and it was a sloppy goal to concede. There were a couple of mistakes and we weren’t marking their forwards properly in our own penalty area.
“We got back into the match before half time and it was a great goal. Gideon Kodua played a great ball through and it was a superb finish from Callum Marshall. We had belief going into the second half and I felt that we started the second half playing really well.
“We were getting into some dangerous positions but we just couldn’t get the final bit right, whether that be the pass or the shot. The effort and endeavour was there, even when we were 3-1 down, so I can’t fault the boys for their effort. It just wasn’t our day today.”
Chelsea’s fast start was rewarded and the visitors took the lead inside the opening ten minutes. Louis Flower used his pace to good effect down the left wing and delivered a fantastic cross which McNeilly headed into the net from close range.
The Hammers registered their first opportunity of the match after a quarter-of-an-hour. Lewis Orford drove his side forward before sliding a ball across for Marshall. The West Ham No9 took a touch before unleashing a low driven strike with his left foot, which forced Ted Curd into an important save.
After a lengthy spell of possession the Irons deservedly equalised through Marshall midway through the first half. Kodua found space in the final third and delivered a perfect through pass to Marshall who tucked the ball into the bottom right corner from the edge of the box.
Chelsea almost retook the lead minutes later. Mendel-Idowu’s corner was met by Flower at the front post and the winger’s well directed header rebounded off the post.
The Hammers looked to have taken the lead before half time when Billy Bates headed Orford’s inswinging corner into the net, but the referee’s whistle had been blown and Chelsea were awarded a free kick, cutting Bates’ celebrations short.
After a well contested start to the second half, Chelsea retook the lead on minute 59. Zain Silcott-Duberry’s deflected pass found its way to McNeilly on the edge of the box and the Blues’ No9 swept the ball into the bottom left corner.
The hosts pushed for an equaliser but it was the visitors who scored the fourth goal of the match. A low cross caused chaos in the 18-yard-box and Mendel-Idowu reacted quickest to poke the ball into the net from close range.
Kevin Keen’s side pushed for a second goal and came close to finding a way back into the match in the closing stages. Kodua showed superb strength and desire to keep the ball in play on the left flank before cutting the ball back to Marshall. The striker looked to place the ball into the bottom corner but his controlled strike rolled just wide of the post.
Prenderville suggested that a poor start had a big impact on the performance.
He said: “We have fallen behind in several matches this season, but we’ve been able to turn games around and win. We can’t keep falling behind in matches and it hurt us today, we came up short. We went 1-0 down and 2-1 down and against a good team like Chelsea it’s tough to come back.
“The lads have so much belief after our start to the season, even at 3-1 they were pushing for a goal because they felt that we were very much still in the game. We pushed for a way back into the game but we just couldn’t find that goal. Chelsea deserve credit though, they were very good.”
Despite two consecutive league defeats, the young Hammers have enjoyed a superb start to the season, both in the league and in the Youth Cup.
Prenderville suggested that the side are desperate to bounce back next week, with a home match against Norwich awaiting the side.
He added: “It’s been a fantastic season so far, both on and off the pitch. It’s been great to win so many matches at the start of the season but we knew that we couldn’t keep that run up forever. It’s all about learning from defeats and bouncing back in the next match.
“It’s easy when you’re winning games but when you get a bad result or two, it’s all about showing your character and desire. We’ll get back on the training pitch and we’ll work hard. We’ll look to address certain things that went wrong today, and we’ll look to go again.
“The boys have been brilliant all season and we have a target on our back every time that we play now because we’re top of the league. Our focus now turns to next week and we’ll see where we go from there.”
West Ham United U18s: Terry, Bates, Nallo (Fawunmi 69), Tarima, Jones (Uwandji 78), Battrum, Orford, Scarles, Mukasa (Akpata 78), Marshall, Kodua ©
Subs not used: Herrick (GK), Briggs
Goal: Marshall 22
Chelsea U18s: Curd, Acheampong, Murray-Campbell, Wilson, Boniface, Ray-Sakyi ©, Golding (McMahon 74), Mendel-Idowu (George 74), Silcott-Duberry (Ampah 83), McNeilly (Hay 83), Flower
Subs not used: Crampton (GK)
Goals: McNeilly 9, 59, Mendel-Idowu 67
Referee: Reece Pinchback