Chelsea’s Under-18s continued their pre-season schedule with a keenly contested and engaging affair against Derby County which finished 1-1.
Adie Viveash’s boys began their summer with a win over Colchester and followed it with a victory on tour in Austria, but suffered defeat against a very talented Nottingham Forest team in midweek.
East Midlands opposition travelled to Cobham for the second time in a week and the Rams, much like their neighbours in red, put in a strong performance and were physically imposing with it.
Viveash’s squad was largely made up of first year scholars and schoolboys, whilst he had to make to do without the likes of Ali Gordon and Lewis Baker, who are away with England, and Bertrand Traore, who netted against Colchester last month.
Archange Nkumu captained the team again whilst Dutch import Nathan Ake displayed his versatility by lining up in midfield. Ismail Seremba led the front line flanked by Amin Affane and Tom Howard.
The opening stages lacked fluency and consistency as both sides struggled to play their way out of defence. Chelsea often resorted to angled passes out to the wingers but they were frequently off target or overhit.
Tidy link-up play between Affane and Adam Nditi saw the former have the first real sight of goal but his delivery across the face of goal lacked a finishing touch from anyone in blue.
Seremba then drew the visiting goalie into action for the first time with an effort struck early after a jinking run, but it was never truly threatening.
Mitchell Beeney in the home goal was then asked to make his first save of the afternoon before watching helplessly as a well-struck effort whizzed past his far post.
Swedish midfielder Anjur Osmanovic saw his effort cleared off the line whilst the lively Seremba first went close after good work down the right from Nortei Nortey before firing just wide from distance after the Derby goalkeeper came for a ball well outside his area and never got close to it.
As the first half wore on County began to take charge of affairs and looked the more likely to make the breakthrough.
A header over from a corner was followed by an effort correctly ruled out for offside, and Beeney was easily the busier of the two stoppers.
He showed fine agility to tip an awkward high ball over the crossbar and good awareness to leave a rasping drive which dipped late but still went over.
There was to be no goal before the break however, and both teams retired to take a well earned break.
Chelsea withdrew their pair of Swedes for the second half, replacing them with Walter Figueira and Reece Loudon, but they were soon staring at a deficit as Derby secured the lead their first half endeavour had deserved.
It came in scrappy fashion, with the ball bundled over the line from a corner, but they had worked hard for their goal and were good value for it.
Substitute Loudon had gone agonisingly close to scoring for Chelsea with a well struck effort, but their best moment by far came when Ake released Figueira with a delectably lofted pass which the forward gathered with ease and struck well, but he was denied by an equally good save.
Indeed, Figueira had injected some much-needed potency into the attack and was close against shortly after, showing neat footwork and agility to create an opening but missed the target by not very much at all.
Three more schoolboys entered the match as Dion Conroy, Reece Mitchell and Fankaty Dabo replaced Sam Bangura, Seremba and Howard respectively, and their tenacity and freshness helped Chelsea back into the game.
With most of their play going through John Swift in the holding midfield role, the Blues began to play higher up the pitch and moved the ball around quicker, but equally as importantly they began to close down more effectively as a unit.
Derby struggled to get out of their half and with Conroy distributing the ball well out from defence, the Blues looked to make gains down the flanks, with the tandems of Nditi and Loudon and Nortey and Dabo working well.
Affane returned to the pitch as Nkumu was given a rest (despite the initial concerns of the referee) and it proved to be a turning point in the match.
In the final ten minutes Dabo did well to close down a Derby defender and was rewarded with a clear run on goal. He was however cynically pulled back and denied a clear chance at equalising.
A yellow card was the considered punishment but justice was done when Affane converted the free kick with a delightful effort, and Chelsea were deservedly on terms.
Conroy and Mitchell had chances to win the game but it would have been harsh on Derby who were the better team for good spells, and the draw was a fair result.
It was also another good test for a young group against good calibre opposition and they will now step things up with a tournament in Manchester against a cluster of top Under-18 opponents in Man Utd, Arsenal, Tottenham and Aston Villa.
Team: Beeney, Nortey, Nkumu (c) (Affane 80), Bangura (Conroy 65), Nditi, Swift, Aké, Osmanovic (Loudon 45), Howard (Dabo 65), Affane (Figueira 45), Seremba (Mitchell 65)
Sub Not Used: Killip
Goal: Affane 83