Chelsea’s Under-18s rounded off the calendar year in style, beating Reading at Cobham with a hat-trick from Dominic Solanke (pictured), his second treble in as many games, plus a brace from Ambrose Gnahore and a strike from Charly Musonda securing all three points in emphatic fashion.
There were eight changes from the side that earned a point last time out in the league at West Brom, with only George Brady, Gnahore and Charlie Colkett continuing. Mitchell Beeney and Ruben Loftus-Cheek dropped down from Dermot Drummy’s Under-21 group to start, while Jay Dasilva, Jordan Houghton and Ola Aina made up the back four.
Kasey Palmer joined Loftus-Cheek and Colkett in the midfield trio, while Solanke, the leading goalscorer among the youth ranks so far this campaign, led the line supported by Musonda and Gnahore from the flanks.
Adi Viveash’s side enjoyed much of the early possession at a rain-lashed Cobham, though chances inside the opening 10 minutes were limited. The visitors from Reading were compact in their defensive shape, though the young Blues’ bright start was to pay dividends inside a quarter of an hour.
Gnahore had a shot well blocked before another opportunity came the young wideman’s way. Close and clever interplay around the penalty area worked the opening for the hosts and Palmer’s cheeky back-heel set Gnahore bearing down on goal. He provided the finish, clipping the ball neatly over the onrushing goalkeeper Lewis Ward to score his eigth goal of the campaign to date.
The young Royals responded positively, testing Beeney with a high corner from the left that whipped about dangerously in the strong wind and forced the goalkeeper to intervene with an aerial punch clear, before Sammi Fridjonsson threatened down the Reading right on a quick counter-attack, only for his delivery inside to evade the supporting attackers.
Musonda had a shot wide before Chelsea doubled their advantage and it came courtesy of the in-form schoolboy Solanke. A misjudgement by defender Rob Dickie allowed Palmer the chance to burst forward at the heart of the defence before the midfield man supplied the striker perfectly and Solanke finished expertly.
That second goal put the Blues firmly in control of the game and they continued to pour forward in numbers and with purpose. Musonda fired a free-kick wide, Gnahore had another effort well blocked and Musonda forced a good stop from goalkeeper Ward down low at his near post, before Solanke came close to grabbing his second goal of the game.
Aina burst down the right flank, beating a couple of defenders before delivering an excellent centre towards the striker, however Solanke just couldn’t quite get enough contact on the ball to send it towards goal.
Ward saved well again, albeit at a comfortable height, from a powerful effort from Loftus-Cheek, though the goalkeeper was unable to prevent the hosts extending the lead to 3-0 just before the break. A loose defensive pass at the back allowed Solanke to head towards goal unchallenged and the forward finished confidently past Ward once again to grab his 12th goal of the season.
Viveash made one change at the break, replacing Houghton with Fikayo Tomori at the heart of the defence, though the action continued to occur predominantly down the other end and it didn’t take long for the Blues to grab another goal.
Another defensive error at the back presented the opening and Solanke was not about to pass up on the opportunity of a second hat-trick in two games, after his treble against Dartford in the FA Youth Cup third round last week. The striker finished well from close range as the defender’s efforts to shield the ball proved unwise and costly.
Solanke had a chance to grab a fourth goal shortly after, as Chelsea’s dominance continued and continual waves of attacks bore down on the Royals goal. Substitute Reece Mitchell’s centre from the left was inviting but the striker was unable to add to his tally.
Gnahore shot narrowly over the bar though the visitors did occasionally threaten, with Shpat Ismajli squandering a host of opportunities to pull a goal back. First he shot wide from the edge of the box, then he was denied by Beeney’s outstretched hand as he tried to round the goalkeeper at a narrow angle, before he bent the best chance of the lot just past the far post.
Tariqe Fosu-Henry smashed one narrowly past the far post though Chelsea continued to pose problems of their own, and Chike Kandi, another second-half introduction, could have got his name on the scoresheet but for a heavy touch at the crucial moment.
A clearance off the goal line from Dickie prevented Solanke getting another goal before the hosts did get their fifth of the game. Efforts rained down on the Reading goal and Musonda, picking up a short corner, managed to beat Ward once more, firing low beyond the goalkeeper from the edge of the box.
Aina had an effort well saved before Gnahore put the gloss on the scoreline, beating Ward from 20 yards with a well-hit left-footed drive. That signalled the end of a torrid morning for Reading and ensured the Chelsea Academy ended the year in style.
Both Viveash’s youth team and Drummy’s Under-21s now break for Christmas, returning to action early in the New Year.
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney (c); Ola Aina, George Brady, Jordan Houghton (Fikayo Tomori h/t), Jay Dasilva; Charlie Colkett (Chike Kandoi 67), Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kasey Palmer (Reece Mitchell 55), Ambrose Gnahore, Charly Musonda, Dominic Solanke.
Unused sub Bradley Collins
Reading Lewis Ward; Tennai Watson, George MvLennan, Conor Shaughnessey, Rob Dickie; Dominic Hyam (c), Liam Kelly, Sammi Fridjonsson, Dejuane Taylor-Crossdale, Noor Husin (Shpat Ismajli), Tariqe Fosu-Henry.
Unused sub Hammed Lawal, Bogdan Vastsuk, Zac Jules, Nana Owusu
By Sam Poplett