Outings in previous seasons away to Ipswich meant those expecting an entertaining morning’s academy action were left disappointed.
Dermot Drummy’s boys secured a third clean sheet of the season in a goalless draw which was unremarkable for almost the entireity of the match. Anton Rodgers’ second half dismissal was a rare talking point, and a disappointing one to boot.
Chelsea started with Jamal Blackman in goal behind a backline of Reece Loudon, George Saville, Archange Nkumu and Ben Sampayo.
Nathaniel Chalobah was in the holding midfield role in his first Under-18 outing of the season, with Anton Rodgers and Todd Kane in the central midfield positions. Adam Nditi and Mesca flanked lone striker Bobby Devyne.
Ipswich had tricky winger Carel Tiofack up against Loudon, while lone front man Caolan Lavery looked set to give the Blues defence a tough time with his work ethic and physique a match for the slight frames of Nkumu and Saville.
The game started slowly with most of the action in happening in midfield. The first major foray into the Chelsea defensive third by Ipswich brought about a corner kick. Blackman was off his line quickly to pluck the ball out of the air before being fouled by one of the home comtingent.
Chelsea soon had the ball with Chalobah demanding it from his defence and linking up with the midfielders in front of him. Everything was happening in a congested midfield, whilst the referee appeared to want to stifle things even further by halting play at regular intervals.
Neither team looked likely to break the deadlock in the first half, the visitors dealing well with Ipswich’s attack but finding that service to Nditi and Mesca was hard to come by.
Ipswich kept a deep defensive line and pressed possession in their third, which encouraged Chelsea to hold a higher defensive line, but with their route to goal routinely shut, frustration began to seep in, and a crunching tackle from Saville caused consternation amongst the home fans.
Whilst others around them threatened to lose their composure, Nathaniel Chalobah was coolness personified. The 15 year-old looked to take the sting out of the game and brought about a spell of Chelsea possession and control which was desperately needed.
Unfortunately, creativity was still at a premium. A neat pass to Todd Kane threatened toc reate an opening, but the offside flag swiftly brought an end to that move. A similar move not long after was telegraphed by Town defenders, but they failed to take advantage of their counter-attack opportunity.
If a goal was going to come, it was most likely going to be from a defensive mistake, and goalkeeper Cody Crooper tried his best to facilitate as much, spilling Mesca’s cross invitingly for Bobby Devyne before pouncing on the loose ball at the second time of asking.
Having had the opportunity to address their first half failings, both coaches will have been encouraged by the start to the second period, which was energised and upbeat in tempo, and both teams saw goalmouth action in quick succession.
A quick attack from Ipswich threatened to open up the Chelsea defence but the final ball was slightly off target and allowed for a recovery. Within a minute, the action moved to the other end as Mesca won the ball in midfield and switched the play to the left flank. A good pass set Nditi free but he was unable to find Devyne in the middle for what would have been a simple finish.
Nditi, a Tanzanian winger by way of Basingstoke, was having an impressive spell which coincided with the arrival of Amin Affane at left-back. The Swedish playmaker has been used in the position at times this season and came on at half time in relief of Loudon, who once again struggled.
A clumsy foul from Nkumu at the other end opened the door for the best attempt of the match, as the ensuing free kick left Blackman rooted to his spot as he watched the ball strike the frame of the goal and bounce to safety.
Danny Stenning and Lewis Baker both entered the fray as the match regressed back into a scrappy affair, allowing the referee to take centre stage again, with some niggly tackles leading to Rodgers dismissal in the closing stages.
On the bright side, after a leaky spell at the back, a clean sheet is a welcome bonus, with the only other away shutout this season posted at Sheffield Wednesday, and Ipswich are a talented team to have kept at bay.
However, after seven fixtures, Drummy’s young charges have managed just one win, and with Arsenal visiting Cobham next weekend, there is no finer opportunity to stand up and be counted than perhaps the most anticipated league match on the schedule.
Team: Blackman, Sampayo, Nkumu, Saville, Loudon (Affane 45), Chalobah, Kane, Rodgers, Mesca, Nditi, Devyne
Subs Used: Stenning, Baker
Subs Not Used: Beeney
Red Card: Rodgers
Thanks go to Yaqub for this match report. You can find him on Twitter ChelCcfc