Chelsea’s Under-21 side snatched a point in stoppage time after an entertaining league contest at Cobham on Friday night. First-half goals from Tariqe Fosu-Henry and Craig Tanner, the second a penalty, gave the visitors a two-goal advantage before Andreas Christensen’s powerful header pulled a goal back for Dermot Drummy’s side quickly after the restart.
The Blues pushed strongly for an equaliser throughout the second period and their efforts were eventually rewarded in stoppage time as Lewis Baker converted from the spot after a handball in the box was penalised.
Dermot Drummy made just one change from the side that defeated West Ham 2-1 in the Under-21 Premier League Cup at Aldershot on Monday, with striker Islam Feruz returning to the starting team in place of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Izzy Brown, who scored the opening goal on Monday, and Jeremie Boga retained their places to support Feruz from the flanks, while ever-present Nathan Ake continued to skipper the side from midfield, alongside recent first-team debutant Lewis Baker and John Swift.
Drummy’s back five was unchanged, with Mitchell Beeney in goal protected by a back four of Fankaty Dabo, Alex, Davey, Andreas Christensen and Adam Nditi.
Six of the Reading Under-18 side that were beaten 6-0 before Christmas at Cobham by Adi Viveash’s side featured in the matchday squad of 16 for the visitors, with Samuel Fridjonsson and Fosu-Henry among the starters.
The visitors started brightly under the floodlights at a chilly Cobham and were rewarded with the game’s opening chance as Aaron Kuhl fired a free-kick narrowly over Beeney’s bar. The young Blues’ first opportunity came moments later as Boga spearheaded a quick attack on the break. The French attacker fed in Brown down the right channel and the striker’s effort was struck well but saved comfortably by Stuart Moore in the Reading goal.
Chelsea’s ball retention playing out from defence was sloppy at times and resulted in lost possession deep in their half, though Feruz did sting the palms of Moore down the other end as Drummy’s team threatened in the final third.
However the deadlock was broken inside 20 minutes and it was the young Royals taking the early advantage. Fosu-Henry benefited as Chelsea struggled to clear the loose aerial ball and the winger finished smartly into Beeney’s bottom corner from 10 yards out.
That lead was reward for a sharp start from Reading and, despite Feruz driving an effort against a defender and behind for a corner, the visitors’ advantage was soon doubled. Tanner delivered an inviting ball over the top for Fosu-Henry and the goalscorer, in behind the defence, was felled by the onrushing Beeney. That prompted the referee to point to the spot and Tanner stepped up to convert confidently into the bottom right corner.
Chelsea responded positively, firstly with Ake firing narrowly over after good build-up play involving Swift and Brown on the right, before Brown (pictured below) shot similarly high and Baker’s free-kick deflected off the wall. Baker then had a fierce left-footed strike arrow just over the bar as the hosts ended the half in the ascendancy.
The young Blues started the second period at a much faster tempo than they had in the first half, with an early goal to reignite the contest firmly in their sights. Drummy didn’t have to wait long for his team to respond to his half-time instructions, as Chelsea pulled a goal back inside five minutes of the restart.
Baker swung in a dangerous corner from the left and centre-back Christensen (pictured top) rose highest to power home a header via the underside of the crossbar.
The goal set the tone for the hosts to finally assert their authority on the game and they began to move the ball as purposefully as they had all evening. Ake had an effort blocked well before the manager shuffled his pack by introducing both Lamisha and Charly Musonda before the hour mark.
The hosts’ pressure continued to grow as the half wore on, though Reading were defending strongly, sitting deep when Chelsea had possession and demanding the young Blues break them down with some intricacy. Boga skewed a shot comfortably wide, while Davey did well to get on the end of another inswinging corner but could only fire wide.
The Scottish Under-19 defender was then called into action in more familiar territory, denying the visitors with a fantastic last-ditch saving challenge after a mistake at the back by Nditi. Loftus-Cheek then replaced the left-back as Drummy introduced fresh legs to make an impact, with Ake moving to full-back.
Chelsea had a penalty shout of their own as the game ticked into the final 10 minutes, with Loftus-Cheek appearing to have his shirt pulled as he looked to take down a high ball forward, however the referee was not convinced.
Drummy’s side continued to pour forward looking for a leveller and Brown was thwarted by an excellent late tackle from Pierce Sweeney on the touchline as he looked to get in behind down the right channel.
Tanner shot just over as the visitors occasionally threatened on the break, though the hosts’ positive second-half display was rewarded with an equaliser in stoppage time. A corner from the right was floated in and Samuel Fridjonsson was penalised for a handball as players challenged for the aerial ball. Baker (pictured below) stepped up and finished expertly into the bottom corner beyond the despairing dive of the goalkeeper.
That goal set up a grandstand final few minutes as Shane Griffin denied Baker with a super last-ditch tackle before Lamisha Musonda forced two good saves from Moore. However, there was no time left for the Blues to push on for a winner and the sides had to settle for a share of the league points.
Assistant Andy Myers reflected afterwards on a clichéd game of two halves at Cobham. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: ‘We didn’t start too well in the first half. Reading played a lot of forward balls that put us under pressure and obviously they got two early goals.
‘But we had a talk at half-time and made some changes tactically to put more pressure on them, not allowing them to play those balls forward from the back, and we seemed to get in the game more. It was a very physical game and in the second half I think we rose to that challenge a lot better.
‘We were very pleased with the second half,’ Myers continued. ‘Charly Musonda came on and did well, Ruben Loftus-Cheek made an impact too, and all the boys showed good character after what was said at half-time. It was great to see Lamisha Musonda back as well. He’s been out for a while so it’s really pleasing to see him come on and get a run out.’
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen, Adam Nditi (Ruben Loftus-Cheek 74); Nathan Ake (c), Lewis Baker, John Swift (Charly Musonda 61); Jeremie Boga, Isaiah Brown, Islam Feruz (Lamisha Musonda 55)
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Ola Aina, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Goals Christensen 50, Baker (pen) 90+1
Reading Stuart Moore, Sean Long, Shane Griffin, Samuel Fridjonsson, Pierce Sweeney (Dominic Hyam 87), Niall Keown, Shepherd Murombedzi, Aaron Kuhl, Craig Tanner, Jack Stacey, Tariqe Fosu-Henry
Unused subs Lewis Ward, Conor Shaughnessy, Bodgan Vastsuk, De’juane Taylor Crossdale
Goals Fosu-Henry 17, Tanner (pen) 28