Chelsea kicked off their 2013 fixture list at Under-21 with a local derby against Fulham and ran out impressive 2-0 winners.
Second-half strikes from Islam Feruz and Lewis Baker secured three points for Dermot Drummy’s team in a game which saw John Terry make his playing return from an injury which has sidelined him for the past two months.
Sam Walker and Milan Lalkovic, back after relatively unsuccessful loan spells, joined Terry in the starting eleven whilst there was also room for first-year scholars Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Feruz.
Tika Musonda lined up at right-back, George Saville captained the side despite Terry’s presence, but there was no involvement for first-team fringe players Nathan Aké, Jamal Blackman or Lucas Piazon.
Fulham’s team was one of their youngest in a season where they’ve regularly used over-age players – with only Simon Davies on display – and they rarely threatened in a first half which was tame and relatively uneventful. Chelsea had the better of the play but were generally restricted to long-range efforts, with Loftus-Cheek sending one skidding wide of Jesse Joronen’s post after ten minutes.
Billy Clifford tried his luck once or twice with varying degrees of accuracy whilst captain Saville had one blocked and another fly over the crossbar. The Blues also saw a succession of corners during the first 45 minutes which allowed Terry to meander up the pitch, but despite connecting with a few he was unable to find the target.
Walker had a quiet time of things in his return to action for his parent club save for tidying up a deflected pass early on, but was asked to make his first save in the latter stages of the opening period when Israeli midfielder Omri Altman jinked past Musonda and shot low to the near post. The big stopper was equal to it, however, and turned it away for a corner.
Terry exited at the break with his planned 45 minutes completed, a cameo in which he looked fresh and at ease but clearly taking it easy and playing with caution. He was replaced by Alex Davey, whilst Lamisha Musonda joined his younger brother on the pitch as Billy Clifford was given a breather.
The ten minutes immediately after the restart were notable only for Lalkovic’s wayward finishing and for John Swift’s arrival as Loftus-Cheek went off. It took Swift less than ten seconds to have an impact as with his first touch he cut the Fulham defence apart to find Lamisha Musonda, but the eldest of the three brothers at the club failed to beat Joronen one against one.
On the hour mark though, Feruz was given his first chance of the night and it was no surprise that he took it to give his team the lead. A Fulham corner looked to have caused more than a worry but the hosts scrambled it clear towards Adam Nditi. He played an excellent pass to launch a counter-attack as Feruz sprinted to latch onto it, only to find Joronen in no man’s land miles out of his goal.
It took barely an instant for the Scottish Under-21 international to compose himself and pass the ball into the back of the net from 40 yards out with the Fulham ‘keeper desperately scrambling position.
The lead was deserved and almost doubled minutes later as Lalkovic’s cross eluded Feruz’s attempt at a spectacular overhead kick but not Saville’s late arrival, but the captain’s shot was blocked away for a corner.
Fulham introduced fresh legs in the form of Corey Gameiro and new signing Chris David but outside of the nible Altman really didn’t look as if they had what it would take to break down a Chelsea defence which looked as comfortable without Terry as it had with.
The result was put beyond doubt with twenty minutes remaining when a penalty was awarded for handball as Sean Kavanagh blocked Lalkovic’s cross with his arm. Baker stepped up to score his seventh of the season, sending Joronen the wrong way.
With a two-goal lead in the bag, Drummy’s youngsters looked to secure the points and control the remainder of the game and did so very well. Saville, probably the best player on show, continued to dictate the tempo and flow of the game in front of plenty of busy scouts this month, and with the confidence provided by a lead, Chelsea looked to add to the scoreline.
Nditi might have done so but for one of the wildest finishes you’re ever likely to see, whilst Lalkovic continued to buzz around in his usual manner. Fulham caused a few flutters themselves, firstly when Gameiro closed down Walker and then when Alex Smith delivered an excellent cross, but neither moment really came close to being a chance and the difference between the two sides was clear seconds later when Feruz asked Joronen to make another save.
Chelsea had created more and asked more of the visiting goalkeeper, who unfortunately proved to be the decisive factor in giving up the all important first goal of the night. It allowed Chelsea to seize full control and they never looked back, collecting a big three points to start their Tier One campaign in the best possible manner.
Saville, Christensen and Baker impressed throughout whilst both Musonda brothers played as well as they have since signing. Swift was lively and involved from the bench whilst Lalkovic was always keen to be involved as he seeks a new and more successful loan spell. All in all, it was a very productive night’s work.
Chelsea: Walker, T.Musonda, Terry (Davey 45), Christensen, Nditi, Saville (c), Loftus-Cheek (Swift 54), B.Clifford (L.Musonda 45), Baker, Lalkovic, Feruz
Subs not Used: Beeney, Kiwomya
Fulham: Joronen, Christensen, Kavanagh, Grimmer, Pritchard, Davies (David 60), Williams, Smith (c), Dalla Valle, Minkwitz (Gameiro 70), Altman (Islamovic 88)
Subs not Used: Somogyi, Peniket
Goals: Feruz 61, Baker 71 pen