Chelsea’s Under-21s showed resilience and a battling mentality to come from 2-0 and 3-2 behind to take a point in a 3-3 draw against West Ham United on Friday night.
Goals from Pelly Ruddock and Matthias Fanimo had put the visitors two to the good before Lewis Baker reduced the deficit, and whilst John Swift had drawn things level, Blair Turgott’s late goal looked to have taken the points back to East London. Cue Nathan Aké stepping up deep into stoppage time to score the game’s sixth and final goal to ensure Chelsea went home with something for their endeavours.
Dermot Drummy handed Nigerian international centre-back Kenneth Omeruo a first appearance of any kind in a Chelsea shirt following the 20 year-old’s summer shoulder surgery. He joined captain Aké in the heart of a defence which was without Isak Ssewankambo (injured) and Andreas Christensen (rested) but saw opportunities for younger full-backs in Fankaty Dabo and Kevin Wright. Mitchell Beeney kept goal with father Mark – the club’s 45 year-old Under-21 goalkeeping coach – the nominated backup amongst the subs.
Baker and Billy Clifford anchored the midfield with Jeremie Boga given the nod in the number ten role, meaning Ruben Loftus-Cheek had to settle for a place on the bench. He was joined by Isaiah Brown, who spent much of the last week away with England’s Under-17 team, meaning Islam Feruz started in attack with in-form pair Alex Kiwomya and Swift left and right of him respectively.
West Ham turned up at Aldershot’s Electrical Services Stadium as the Premier Under-21 League leaders but rarely looked like it in the opening exchanges as the boys in blue were on the front foot quickly. Feruz drove wide after reacting sharply to a loose ball in the box before Swift asked Raphael Spiegel to make his first save of the night with a low effort from long range.
Baker and Kiwomya spurned further chances as Chelsea played neat and intricate football on the edge of the Hammers’ box but struggled to break down the last line of defence, and they were made to pay for their struggles by a double sucker punch midway through the first half.
West Ham took the lead when Omeruo’s clearance was blocked by Dylan Tombides and fell kindly to powerful midfielder Ruddock, who had been involved at senior level in the League Cup in midweek. He took a touch to settle the ball before confidently stroking it into the far corner, leaving Beeney with no chance.
Moments later the lead was doubled when a rapid break from the back saw Tombides feed winger Fanimo, who surged through the middle before unleashing a fierce shot from the edge of the box which crashed into the roof of the net.
It was the visitors’ best spell of the game by a long way and they might have been further ahead had Kieran Sadlier’s free kick gone an inch or two the other side of the goalpost, or had Turgott’s cross been turned home by Tombides instead of the Australian putting it onto the roof of the net. It offered Chelsea hope that they might be able to get back into things, and ten minutes before half time they did just that.
Good approach work from Boga lined up a chance for Clifford on the edge of the box, and whilst his effort struck the post, Baker was quickest to the follow-up and he turned home to halve the deficit. A similar move almost saw parity restored a few minutes later as Feruz saw his shot saved well by Spiegel, but this time Swift was just unable to poke the ball home from six yards out.
The half finished with Turgott reminding Chelsea of the threat posed by the boys in claret and blue on the break as his shot deflected off Aké and squirted away to safety, much to the relief of the younger Beeney in goal.
Seeking to change the complexion of the contest, Drummy introduced Brown for Kiwomya at half time and Loftus-Cheek for Boga shortly before the hour, and the early portion of the second half once again saw Chelsea control proceedings without really threatening Spiegel in the West Ham goal. Feruz escaped the attentions of his marker to latch onto a neat reverse pass by Baker, but slipped on the wet Aldershot turf at the crucial moment and watched his chance go begging.
Loftus-Cheek had a glorious chance to level the game up midway through the half when he latched onto a sumptuous ball over the top by Clifford, but despite trapping it perfectly, he pushed the finish just wide under the attentions of the onrushing Spiegel. Three minutes later, fellow replacement Brown somehow failed to score from two yards out during a goalmouth scramble; his effort blocked on the line by Callum Driver.
Turgott and Danny Whitehead offered resistance with shots from distance which might have worried Beeney on another evening, but with ten minutes left on the clock the home team got the goal they arguably deserved when Swift was on hand to convert from a yard out after Feruz had shown enterprising effort down the left to deliver a cross. It was his fourth goal of the Under-21 season and seventh in all competitions, with three more having come in the UEFA Youth League.
The parity lasted little more than a minute though, as Turgott took it upon himself to put West Ham back in the ascendancy with an unstoppable shot from 25 yards out which screamed past Beeney and into the far corner. He was arguably afforded too much time and space in which to size up his effort, but the finish was deserving of a goal.
Having worked so hard to get themselves back in the game, going behind so quickly might have been enough to finish most teams off, but Chelsea didn’t back down. Aké went close twice in quick succession but the golden chance fell to Loftus-Cheek, who contrived to shoot high and wide from ten yards out despite being completely unchallenged.
He did better with his next effort, thumping a header towards goal from a corner, and with four minutes of stoppage time signalled, there was still hope they could get back in it again. Perhaps inspired by the efforts of right-back Dabo to put in an 80-yard sprint in the 93rd minute to prevent Tombides from sealing the win, the Blues staged one last go of it. Clifford thundered a strike off the crossbar from a ridiculous distance out and with almost the last touch of the game, Aké was first to react to the rebound and scored to take a deserved share of the spoils.
Chelsea: Mitchell Beeney, Dabo, Omeruo (Davey 64), Aké (c), Wright, Baker, Clifford, Boga (Loftus-Cheek 58), Swift, Kiwomya (Brown 45), Feruz
Subs not Used: Mark Beeney, Aina
West Ham United: Spiegel, Driver (Nasha 89), Shaw, Miles (Makasi 70), Burke, Ruddock, Turgott, Whitehead, Tombides, Sadlier, Fanimo (Cullen 82)
Subs not Used: Maguire, Howes
Goals: Baker, Swift, Aké (Chelsea); Ruddock, Fanimo, Turgott (West Ham)
Booked: Clifford (Chelsea); Burke (West Ham)