Our Under-21s fell to a third successive league defeat, losing 1-0 to a superb second-half strike by Everton’s Conor McAleny at Cobham.
Both teams had chances in what was an even contest between two good sides, and the first goal was always going to be crucial.
Everton scored it 10 minutes into the second half when McAleny sent a dipping effort beyond Jamal Blackman and into the top corner, and while we had chances to secure a point late on, the visitors, who had Ross Barkley dismissed in the closing stages, head back to Merseyside with all three points.
It was a strong Chelsea line up with a blend of youth and experience at this level. Todd Kane skippered the side, while there was also a start for Daniel Pappoe at the heart of the defence. Meanwhile, Adam Nditi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathan Ake, Lewis Baker and Alex Kiwomya, all of whom featured in Friday’s FA Youth Cup win at Derby County, also started.
The visitors were able to call on the services two players with plenty of first-team experience in the shape of Ross Barkley and Apostolos Vellios, who scored at Stamford Bridge last season.
It was Everton who started the brighter of the two sides, with the Blues struggling to see much of the ball early in the game.
We were forced to wait until the 14th minute for our first sight of goal, a deflected Milan Lalkovic effort which ran comfortably through into the arms of the visitors’ goalkeeper Mason Springthorpe.
Everton almost broke the deadlock at the other end shortly afterwards when Barkley, who featured as a substitute for the first team in Saturday’s FA Cup defeat to Wigan Athletic, worked himself into a yard of space before fizzing a strike over the bar.
Alex Kiwomya, playing as the lone striker, was thwarted by a well-timed tackle by Tyias Browning on the break, before our best opportunity of the game fell to Kevin Wright, the left-back unfortunate to see his right-footed strike drop inches over the top.
In the 25th minute Jamal Blackman was called into action for the first time, making a brilliant save to deny Shane Duffy, who climbed highest to meet the incoming corner.
The game was developing into a decent contest, and there were key individual battles shaping up all over the pitch, none more so than the one between Nathan Ake and Barkley.
After a slow start we were growing into the game and would have taken the lead just after the half-hour mark had it not been for a wonderful save by Springthorpe, who dived to his left to claw away a well-hit Pappoe effort.
Much like the first half, it was Everton quickest out of the blocks after the restart, and within five minutes the best chance of the game went begging.
Barkley advanced into the box, but as he picked out the run of McAleny at the back-post, leaving his team-mate with the simplest of finishes, he somehow fired his shot into the side-netting.
Five minutes later, however, the same player more than made up for his profligacy as the away side were rewarded for their positive start to the second half.
McAleny picked the ball up 25 yards from goal after Ake had lost possession, and as the defenders backed off, the Everton number 10 curled an audacious strike beyond Blackman and into the top corner of the net.
Within 15 minutes of the restart Dermot Drummy had used all three of his substitutions, with Alex Davey, John Swift and Fankaty Dabo coming on for Pappoe, Loftus-Cheek and Kiwomya respectively.
Dabo’s introduction at right-back saw Kane move into a more advanced role, with Milan Lalkovic operating as a striker.
Our response to falling behind was impressive, and we were almost level when Baker, after exchanging passes with Kane, saw his shot parried by Springthorpe, with Nditi unable to convert the rebound.
As we pushed players forward in search of an equaliser, though, Everton looked to take advantage on the break, and Barkley wasted a glorious opportunity to double their advantage, ignoring the unmarked McAleny and drilling his shot wide, much to the frustration of the goalscorer.
There were half-hearted appeals for a penalty when Nditi went down inside the box, and when the same player won a free-kick moments later on the edge of the penalty area, Baker could only fire straight at the wall.
Kane then forced a smart stop from Springthorpe down to his left when he raced on to a Lalkovic pass, and from the resulting corner there was another appeal for a penalty, one which appeared to have more substance, after Davey’s strike looked to have hit a hand.
In the closing stages Barkley was shown a red card following an off-the-ball altercation with Davey, in which the Everton midfielder appeared to raise a hand, and while Chelsea forced a string of corners late on, the 10 men defended resolutely and held on for the win.
Drummy was disappointed with the result, but pleased with the manner of his players’ performance.
‘I was really proud of the players,’ he told the official Chelsea website. ‘The commitment they showed in trying to get back into the game, against a strong Everton side, was impressive. We can lose games, but we’re trying to play football in the right way.’
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Jamal Blackman; Todd Kane (c), Daniel Pappoe (Alex Davey 50), Dion Conroy, Kevin Wright; Ruben Loftus-Cheek (John Swift 50), Nathan Ake; Milan Lalkovic, Lewis Baker, Adam Nditi; Alex Kiwomya (Fankaty Dabo 60).
Unused substitutes: Mitchell Beeney, Jesse Starkey.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Mason Springthorpe; John Stones, Shane Duffy (c), Tyias Browning, Luke Garbutt; Francisco Junior, Ross Barkley; Hallam Hope, Conor McAleny, Conor Grant; Apostolos Vellios (Matthew Kennedy 87).
Unused substitutes: Sam Kelly, Christopher Long, Ibou Touray, Tom Molyneux