The Under-21 side notched up their first league win in six with a hard-fought 3-2 victory at Manchester City’s Platt Lane. Goals from Patrick Bamford (pictured) and Islam Feruz gave the Blues a 2-0 half-time lead, before City hit back through Marcos Lopez early after the interval.
An own goal from Greg Leigh restored the visitors’ two-goal advantage, which remained intact for the remainder of the second half until an Alex Davey own goal right at the death gave Dermot Drummy’s side a few worries in the final minutes. However Chelsea held on to secure their second league win of the campaign.
With many players involved in midweek in the 1-1 draw away in Norway to Molde in the NextGen Series there was plenty of food for thought with Drummy’s team selection. The front three of Feruz, Bamford and Lewis Baker retained their starting places, while Billy Clifford, Rohan Ince and Conor Clifford came into the midfield. Jamal Blackman kept his place between the sticks while in front of him started the familiar quartet of Aziz Deen-Conteh, Nathan Aké, Andreas Christensen and captain Todd Kane.
The game started in chilly Manchester at a frenetic pace, with little time to think on the ball in midfield and plenty of early pressing, and the chances presented themselves early on as well. Deen-Conteh had to make an excellent last-ditch block from Luca Scapuzzi inside the box before the deadlock was broken after just eight minutes.
Baker clipped a delightful ball over the top for Bamford, who had floated central from the left flank, and the striker finished with typical precision into the corner of Eirik Johansen’s goal for his fourth of the season.
The hosts looked to hit straight back and Deen-Conteh again had to be at his best in hooking the ball off the line from Karim Rekik’s attempt. Down the other end good interplay between Billy Clifford and Kane down the right led to a corner, which Aké headed just over.
Baker had a shot well-saved at a comfortable height for Johansen after being fed in by Ince, while Blackman was also called into action as the game swung from end to end in an entertaining fashion. City’s Jose Pozo saw his attempt trickle agonisingly past Blackman’s far post before Chelsea doubled their early advantage.
The visitors had enjoyed a few minutes of controlled possession and they capped that off with an excellent attacking move. Billy Clifford, at the heart of everything positive for the Blues, found Bamford on the edge of the box and his delicious back-heel deceived the last defender and fed in Feruz, who confidently fired past the helpless Johansen to double the visitors’ lead and add to his two goals notched up at Wolves last time out.
Drummy’s side continued to push forward as the half progressed and Feruz came close to a second for himself after a dangerous delivery from the right from Kane, before finding the back of the net again, only to have it chalked off for offside by the linesman. City remained a threat however, and Chelsea’s occasional mistakes in possession continued to give Attilio Lombardo’s side hope.
A bizarre moment at the back gave them a great chance to pull one back just before the break, as Blackman misjudged a simple throw out after the referee played advantage after an offside and Ince was drawn into a foul on the edge of the box. The midfielder picked up a booking, though Abdul Razak could only fire over from a promising position.
The second period began much like the first, in a high-tempo fashion, and Feruz skewed over after a quick break involving Billy Clifford and Bamford, before City pulled one back. Devante Cole couldn’t quite get on the end of a dangerous centre across the face of goal, before Lopez rolled the ball into the far corner beyond the despairing Blackman. It was the early goal back that Lombardo would have demanded of his side and reignited the contest.
Lopez almost immediately hit the equaliser after getting in behind the Chelsea back line, however this time he just couldn’t quite find Blackman’s far corner and the Blues gave a sigh of relief. Blackman then had to make an instinctive save with his feet from close range before Billy Clifford almost found Bamford in behind, however Johansen was quick off his line and bravely got there first.
Drummy made a couple of changes to shuffle his pack, introducing Lamisha Musonda and Alex Davey early in the second half, with Baker moving infield and Aké pushing forward into midfield, and just after the hour mark he saw his side restore their two-goal cushion. Bamford worked well down the left to beat a man, before drilling the ball into the box, where the unfortunate left back Leigh could do nothing to stop it deflecting off him and beyond Johansen in the City goal.
The third goal seemed to knock the wind out of the hosts, though Scapuzzi ought to have done better with an effort from the edge of the area that went flying over Blackman’s bar, before the visiting keeper had to be brave at the feet of Cole. Chelsea remained a threat on the break and Feruz almost got on the end of Billy Clifford’s through-ball, though Johansen was quick off his line and brave again.
Scapuzzi dragged an attempt wide, while both Billy Clifford and Baker asked a question of Johansen as the final whistle loomed. However City never gave up and made the final few minutes a nervy spell for Chelsea after pulling a goal back late on. Lopez did well again to beat a couple of defenders and substitute Davey could not do enough to stop his effort beating Blackman. Yet the visitors held out and secured a vital away win, their first on the road this campaign.
‘We’re really pleased,’ said boss Drummy. ‘Firstly to get a win and then the way we won because we had to do the other side of the game which was block off and screen and tackle. Balls were flying in and we had to defend to the hilt but we still managed to play some football and score two great goals in the first half.’
‘There were good performances all-round, especially from Billy Clifford, Nathan Aké second half along with Andreas. It’s nice for the boys to get a win, they’ve all got a smile on their faces and we’re really happy.’
‘We should have won in Molde and it’s been a long week with a 12-hour trip on the way back so it did take its toll on the group and they’ve been split all week so it’s a nice feeling for the boys to win.’
Chelsea: Blackman, Kane (c), Aké, Christensen, Deen-Conteh, C.Clifford (Davey 60), Ince (L.Musonda 57), B.Clifford, Baker, Bamford (Nditi 80), Feruz.
By Sam Poplett.