Dermot Drummy’s side strengthened their position in the top four of the Under-21 Premier League with an away point in Greater Manchester. Marco van Ginkel returned to match action for 45 minutes in the second half as he continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury.
There were four changes from the side that started in the Under-21s’ last league outing almost a fortnight ago, a 1-0 home win over Middlesbrough, as both Islam Feruz and Ruben Loftus-Cheek missed out with injury. Alex Kiwomya returned to the attack, supporting striker and the young Blues’ top league goalscorer Izzy Brown, with Reece Mitchell providing the width from the left.
Jeremie Boga (pictured top) came into the midfield trio alongside John Swift and Lewis Baker, while captain Nathan Ake replaced Adam Nditi at left-back. Isak Ssewankambo (pictured below), scorer of the solitary goal in the win over Middlesbrough, Andreas Christensen and Alex Davey comprised the remainder of the back four, protecting Mitchell Beeney in goal.
Chelsea started brightly in the opening 10 minutes at Leigh Sports Village and Ben Amos, the Manchester United goalkeeper, was forced to make a couple of good saves early on. Kiwomya’s centre from the right caused problems as it looped towards the far post and Amos was smart to tip the ball over the crossbar, before Brown side-footed the resultant corner over.
Brown and Baker then combined well as they advanced forward after the latter had won possession back in midfield, though Amos pushed behind Brown’s deflected effort for another corner. Starting centrally in attack, Brown was linking up play intelligently and saw another deflected effort fly just wide after interplay with Swift on the edge of the penalty area.
James Weir had a shot well blocked as the hosts won their first corner of the game after a quarter of an hour, though the following set-piece was defended strongly. Down the other end, Kiwomya continued to threaten down the right flank, skipping past defenders on a burst forward and delivering low into the box, though Amos gathered comfortably.
The Blues crafted a wonderful move just after the midway point of the half. Baker fed the overlapping Ake down the left flank and the skipper delivered a low centre into the box which evaded Brown and Boga but found Kiwomya at the far post, however the young winger couldn’t quite connect with the ball and the chance quickly passed by.
Weir and Saidy Janko combined intricately in the Chelsea box but couldn’t fashion a sight at Beeney’s goal in the face of some solid defensive work, before Brown was inches away from giving his side the lead. Kiwomya advanced past the defender and teed up the striker but the 17-year-old was unable to add to his seven league goals this campaign as he fizzed his strike narrowly over.
Kiwomya fired wide and Swift’s low shot lacked power, while Ake got onto the end of a flick forward in the final minutes of the half, though the Dutchman’s advances were snuffed out by goalkeeper Amos and the recovering Janko and Charni Ekangamene as the teams went in level at the break.
As indicated before the game by manager Drummy, Van Ginkel was introduced for the second period as he continues his recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained in September’s 2-0 Capital One Cup victory over Swindon Town. He replaced Mitchell at the interval in a switch that saw Boga pushed to the left and the 21-year-old join Swift and Baker in central midfield.
The Dutch international’s countryman Ake once again looked to threaten in behind after 10 minutes of the restart, though the linesman’s flag adjudged him offside in a tight call. Yet chances were limited for both sides as the tempo of the game slowed through the first part of the second half.
A further rotation in personnel saw Boga moved back infield, with Kiwomya wide left and Swift switched to the right, and the change almost paid quick dividends as the Frenchman demonstrated excellent balance and poise to fashion a chance for Baker. The England youth international advanced and bore down on goal but his final effort was straight at Amos and the goalkeeper held on to the ball too.
Andreas Pereira and Joe Rothwell combined neatly as Warren Joyce’s side broke out from defence quickly, though Christensen held up their progress before reinforcements arrived. Patrick McNair then put his body on the line for the hosts to block from Kiwomya after the winger had cut in from the left flank, a sacrifice that saw him soon depart from the field with a knock.
An enterprising move from Chelsea then created an opportunity for Van Ginkel (pictured below) as Beeney’s 80-yard ball forward found Baker in some space on the right. The midfielder teed up the advancing substitute and his effort was struck well and saved crucially by Amos, with Brown lurking for a possible rebound.
Brown shot over from Kiwomya’s lay-off and Baker’s deep free-kick delivery came close to falling kindly for both Brown and then Van Ginkel in the final minutes, though the young Blues could find no way past Amos and had to settle for an away point that strengthens their position in the top four. They remain fourth but move to within three points of third-place Southampton with two games in hand. The league’s top four teams progress to the play-off semi-finals at the end of the campaign.
Next up for the Academy is a league game at Cobham tomorrow morning [Saturday] as the Under-18s host West Brom at midday. The Under-21s host Blackburn Rovers at Cobham next Friday, 28 March in the Under-21 Premier League.
The Under-18 league game v Fulham, originally scheduled for Tuesday 6 May, will now be played on Tuesday 25 March, with a 6pm kick off at Motspur Park.
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Isak Ssewankambo, Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake (c); Lewis Baker, John Swift, Jeremie Boga; Alex Kiwomya, Izzy Brown. Reece Mitchell (Marco van Ginkel h/t).
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Adam Nditi, Jordan Houghton, Tika Musonda
Manchester United Ben Amos; Guillermo Varela, Patrick McNair (Matthew Willock 77), Charni Ekangamene, Louis Rowley; Saidy Janko, Joe Rothwell, Davide Petrucci (c) (Josh Harrop 49), James Weir, Reece James; Andreas Pereira,
Unused subs Sean Goss, Joel Pereira, Jack Rudge