A pulsating Monday night reserve match saw Aston Villa and Chelsea share South league spoils in a 2-2 draw featuring two late goals.
Samir Carruthers’ first half opener was cancelled out by Nathaniel Chalobah early in the second half, only for Gokhan Tore to see red. Harry Forrester looked to have won the game for the hosts but a stoppage time leveller from substitute Adam Phillip earned Chelsea a well-deserved point.
The team news was notable for the inclusion of Tomas Kalas for the first time in a blue shirt. The 17 year-old Czech defender made his move from Sigma Olomouc in January, six months ahead of schedule, and partnered Daniel Pappoe in the centre of a young back four.
Chalobah was moved to right-back, and Billy Clifford filled in at left-back, an unfamiliar role. Fabio Borini captained the side after scoring a hat-trick on his return to action last week against West Ham.
The hosts included first-team experience in Nathan Baker, Chris Herd, Barry Bannan and Nathan Delfouneso in what was only their second reserve outing in two months. The other was an emphatic 10-1 victory over a young Arsenal team.
On a quite frankly atrocious pitch at Hinckley United’s Greene King Stadium, and in cold, wet conditions, it was Villa who looked the better of the two teams in the early going. Goalkeeper Jan Sebek had to be alert to make a key interception at the near post to deny a free header for Delfouneso at the near post.
The surface was causing problems for Chelsea both in terms of passing and footing, which Milan Lalkovic found out the hard way, falling over whilst attempting to beat Herd with a series of stepovers.
Kevin McDonald’s team were pressing extremely high up the pitch, working the young Blues backline extremely hard, and began to force mistakes. Delfouneso got the better of Pappoe in a battle of strength and created an opening for Gary Gardner, but the prolific midfielder saw his shot come back off the base of the post.
When Chelsea managed to pass the ball into the midfield, they looked capable of causing problems for the home team, especially when Tore was in possession. The young Turkish midfielder was lively and decisive, and regularly found pockets of space to play in.
Sebek continued to impress in the visiting goal though, making good stops from Bannan and then from a free kick struck well by Gardner, before making the stop of the half in denying Delfouneso’s seemingly goal-bound flick with a strong left hand.
A five minute spell shortly after the half hour mark saw Chelsea’s best moments arrive, with Tore testing Elliott Parish’s handling with a shot from some way out, before Borini beat the young stopper to a through ball and hit the outside of the post from a tight angle.
With half time approaching, Villa opened the scoring with a goal they deserved on the balance of play. Another long ball allowed Delfouneso to run in behind Kalas, and after waiting for support squared the ball to allow Carruthers the simplest of finishes.
Holland made one change at half time, introducing Aziz Deen-Conteh for Kaby, who had been quiet in the opening 45 minutes. It meant he would slot in at left-back, with Clifford swapping sides and allowing Chalobah to move into midfield.
The tactical shake-up, combined with a renewed approach, paid immediate dividends. Chelsea began to press more effectively, perhaps buoyed by the increased physical presence in the middle of the park, and began to force mistakes and openings for themselves.
They needed Sebek to make a fine stop to deny Forrester before doing so, but soon found themselves playing in Villa’s defensive third, and came within inches of an equaliser when Michael Woods’ sidefooted effort skidded onto the post. The rebound came too quickly for Borini to be able to turn in from close range.
Undeterred, they kept coming and Borini earned a corner with a low effort from the edge of the box. From the set piece, Woods flicked the ball across the face of goal, and Chalobah arrived at the far post to thump the ball into the roof of the net for the equaliser.
With their tails firmly up, blue shirts poured forwards and Tore was denied a sensational goal after a mazy run and shot by a superb save by Parish, but the Turk’s night was soon to take a turn for the worse.
In an off the ball incident, Daniel Devine pushed Borini in the aftermath of a tackle. In the ensuing fracas, Tore was dismissed for violent conduct after an alledged hand to the face of the Villa defender.
Devine was perhaps lucky to remain on the pitch himself, as after being booked for his part in the melee, he threw an elbow at Borini off the ball without the referee seeing the transgression.
With a man advantage, the hosts were able to regain their composure and set about seizing an initiative. They almost found the game’s third goal when Chelsea looked unconvincing in dealing with a cross from the left, but Forrester’s effort was cleared off the line by Jacopo Sala.
A nasty looking injury to Sebek took the sting and pace out of the game temporarily, but the giant Czech stopper was able to get up from two blows to the head and continue, despite briefly looking dazed.
Lalkovic and Delfouneso both had chances to put their teams ahead but neither were able to find a convincing finish, whilst Borini’s incessant hounding continued to give him opportunities.
With just three minutes of normal time left though, Villa looked to have won it. A counter-attack led by Carruthers saw Forrester open on the left, and as he was afforded time and space by Kalas, he was able to pick his spot and bend the ball into the top corner, leaving Sebek with no chance.
Adam Phillip was thrown on for the closing stages in a desperate attempt to add more firepower to the team, and it worked. Fabulous work from Lalkovic carved out an opportunity for the new boy, but his shot was straight at Parish.
The play was kept alive though, and at the second time of asking, he darted across the near post to flick an inswinging cross past the goalkeeper with just enough pace to see it over the line.
It was the least Chelsea deserved for their second half display, for as dominant as Villa were in the first half, the Blues were much the better side after the restart. A shuffle in personnel and a different shape made a difference, as did the attitude and effort shown by Steve Holland’s charges.
Against an opponent the club usually struggles against, and one which has been in fine form this season, the result is a credible and impressive one. Tireless displays from Borini and Sala led the way, with some defensive worries to be expected at this level. However, the determination and desire to achieve a result and leave everything on the pitch was admirable, and earned them a point.
Team: Sebek, Chalobah, Pappoe, Kalas, B.Clifford, Woods (Phillip 89), Kaby (Deen-Conteh 45), Sala, Lalkovic (Kane 90), Gokhan Tore, Borini
Goals: Chalobah ’55, Phillip ’90
Sent Off: Gokhan Tore