The return of Eden Hazard from injury wasn’t enough to help Chelsea’s Development Squad overcome Everton as they suffered a 3-0 defeat at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium on Friday night.
An own goal from Joseph Colley was followed by strikes from Beni Baningime and Oumar Niasse to hand Everton a win they might have merited overall, if not by such a handsome scoreline, as Chelsea huffed and puffed but struggled to blow down the Toffees’ door.
Make sure you check out Dan Davies’ always-excellent match gallery HERE.
Hazard’s inclusion, which drew an interested crowd that included Antonio Conte, was one of four changes from last Friday’s victory over Derby County at Stamford Bridge. The Belgian replaced the injured Callum Hudson-Odoi, whilst Cole Dasilva, Jacob Maddox and Ruben Sammut all made way for Miro Muheim, Josh Grant and Jordan Houghton, who captained the side in his recovery from a torn cruciate ligament suffered back in April and will be rejoining Doncaster Rovers on loan next week.
Everton came into the match as defending Premier League 2 champions and included a notable senior international of their own in the want-away Niasse, and it was he who had the first opportunity of the evening with a well-struck effort from distance that was easily gathered by Marcin Bułka in the Chelsea goal. It was a confident start from a more experienced Toffees squad that included several who have already been out and had a taste of life in senior football on loan.
Hazard, playing as a false nine at the top of a midfield diamond whilst Muheim and Dujon Sterling operated as wide forwards in attack, took a while to get into his inimitable rhythm but showed off one or two nice touches along the way. One of them helped knit together a flowing move that ended with Grant’s threatening cross being cleared by Morgan Feeney, but just as the Blues were building some momentum, they found themselves a goal behind.
Everton put together a neat passage of play themselves that culminated with Liam Walsh’s wicked cross being turned into his own goal by the unfortunate Colley, who attempted to clear with his wrong foot, and left Bułka stranded as the ball flew straight into the bottom corner. Back came Edwards’ boys though, with Hazard’s cross just eluding Muheim for height at the far post, before the star man himself spun away from Baningime and looked destined to equalise only for Feeney to hack him down inside the six yard box.
Inexplicably, though, the referee gestured for play to continue, and so Chelsea were still behind. Muheim’s free-kick was well-saved by Louis Gray, Callum Connolly turned Reece James’ cross onto his own crossbar, and Gray then pulled out a most exceptional stop to keep Ethan Ampadu’s giant header out on the stroke of half time. Ampadu, who earlier in the day had been called into the senior Wales squad a month shy of his 17th birthday, had been the most impressive player in blue through the opening 45 minutes and would have deserved the goal had it gone in.
There was more of the same after the restart, particularly when Hazard turned on the style and wriggled away from two before Ampadu curled just over from his cut-back, which made it all the more frustrating when Everton were able to double their lead shortly before the hour. James tried to retain possession deep in his own corner of the pitch but he and McCormick lost possession to Walsh, who squared for Baningime to drill one all along the ground and past Bułka from the edge of the area for 2-0.
That left plenty for Chelsea to do but, as was the case throughout, they lacked the true centre forward to provide the finishing touch to their generally impressive approach play. That was rarely more evident than when James superbly chested McCormick’s cross-field ball down and drove the ball across the face of goal, begging for a touch, but nobody in blue had gambled to put themselves on the end of it.
Hazard tried to do it all by himself in his final action before making way after a good 75 minutes, weaving his way towards goal and forcing another stop from Gray, whilst Sterling couldn’t guide Muheim’s latest dead-ball effort inside the post from close range. Leaving all sorts of space at the back in an effort to mount a late comeback, Chelsea succumbed to a third goal late on as Niasse beat Bułka at the second attempt on an Everton counter-attack, and substitute Nathan Broadhead could have made it more emphatic in stoppage time had his curling effort not come back off the post.
The Blues now have a two-week break whilst international football returns to mull things over before looking to bounce back at home to Sunderland on September 9th at Cobham.
Chelsea: Bułka, James, Colley, Ampadu, Grant, Houghton © (Sammut 61), Sterling, McCormick, Muheim, Hazard (Maddox 74), Christie-Davies
Subs not Used: Russell, C.Dasilva, Nartey
Booked: Houghton, McCormick, Christie-Davies
Everton: Gray, Jones, Foulds, Baningime, Feeney, Connolly, Evans (Gibson 75), Walsh ©, Sambou (Broadhead 79), Niasse, Charsley (Donkor 90)
Subs not Used: Hilton, Bowler
Goals: Colley ’18 og, Baningime ’55, Niasse ‘87
Booked: Connolly, Evans