Chelsea’s Under-21s picked up an impressive 4-2 victory away to Aston Villa on Monday evening to continue their charge towards the post-season playoff structure in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League.
John Swift opened the scoring inside five minutes but the hosts responded well and were deservedly on terms midway through the first half through Daniel Johnson, but some excellent football by the Blues was rewarded with a 3-1 half time lead courtesy of a second by Swift and a cheeky finish by Lewis Baker, who made sure of the points with a stoppage time penalty in the second half after a proud response by Villa, who had reduced the arrears through Callum Robinson’s opportunist effort and may have felt they deserved a share of the spoils overall.
Thursday’s all-important FA Youth Cup Semi Final Second Leg away to Arsenal meant none of those likely to feature at the Emirates Stadium were risked here and so two changes were made from the starting eleven that lost to Liverpool at Aldershot last Monday. Tika Musonda dropped to the bench to make way for the returning Marco van Ginkel, whilst Andreas Christensen was replaced by Nathan Aké.
Jamal Blackman continued his comeback in goal after more than three months out of the team and Aké partnered Alex Davey in the centre of defence, with Isak Ssewankambo and Adam Nditi flanking them. Van Ginkel joined Swift in midfield with Baker given license to attack ahead of them, whilst Islam Feruz centred an attack trio that also included Charly Musonda and Reece Mitchell.
Villa were out of the traps fastest and Callum Robinson had two early sighters fly wide of Blackman’s goal but Chelsea soon gave reason for Gordan Cowans to be concerned in the home dugout when they took the lead. Aké marauded forwards and released Swift, who took a touch before finishing expertly past goalkeeper Craig Hill, himself a former member of the Blues’ academy as a junior.
It was the first sign that the hosts’ high defensive line could be exploited and moments later it was again as Swift put Feruz in on goal, but with all the time and space he could possibly want the young forward appeared rather hurried and drilled his shot straight at Hill. When the duo combined again to almost the same effect, panic bells were very much ringing around Villa Park.
To their credit they bounced back well and controlled the next ten to fifteen minutes and made good on their best spell by grabbing an equaliser. Robinson was harshly adjudged to have been offside when released by captain Daniel Johnson and saw his goal disallowed but they didn’t have to wait very long to get on terms as Johnson himself finished smartly from the edge of the area after being allowed far too much time and space to get his shot off.
The disallowed goal tally was evened up after half an hour when Mitchell found Feruz in far too much of an advanced position but Dermot Drummy’s boys remained patient and in the later stages of the first half exploited the space in behind to tremendous effect by scoring twice to earn a healty half-time lead. Swift doubled his personal tally and made it 14 for the season on a personal level when he timed a run from deep perfectly to met Van Ginkel’s searching pass before finishing just as confidently as he had earlier with 30 minutes played, and then ten minutes later turned provider with a slide-rule ball in for Baker to gallop clear on goal.
The finish this time was even better and made up for a disappointing miss two minutes prior as he waited for Hill to commit himself before dinking an impudent chip over him and into the back of the net. It was a fine way to end a very impressive half of football by the visitors.
Villa midfielder Graham Burke had a glorious chance to get his side back into the match four minutes after the restart when presented with an unchallenged shot twelve yards from goal, but whereas he was on the scoresheet twice in the 2013 NextGen Series Final between these two teams, he was unable to convert as Blackman got a piece of the shot before Davey cleared the loose ball from inside the six yard box.
Robinson then continued his own frustrating evening by contriving to fire the ball straight at Blackman from little more than six yards out slap bang in front of goal and then watching the big Chelsea custodian swat away a curling effort coming in from the left. Drummy responded by giving Isaiah Brown a run-out ahead of Thursday’s match in place of Mitchell on the left wing.
Villa were by far the better team in the lead-up to the hour mark and Robinson finally got his way after exactly sixth minutes when he found himself unmarked from a Jordan Graham free kick and duly swept home from close range to make it 2-3. Such was their control over proceedings that after Burke had tested Blackman’s handling from 25 yards out, Christensen was introduced in relief of Adam Nditi in a bid to shore up the Chelsea defence.
A lively piece of dribbling by Musonda drew a foul to win a free kick in a very promising position for the expert taker Baker and he came within inches of scoring a fourth direct effort this season but instead missed the target by mere inches; rippling the side netting with Hill well beaten. It was little more than momentary respite in a game of two very different halves though and Blackman was quickly back into action as he bravely punched clear from a Johnson free kick into a crowded area.
Jordan Lyden replaced the tumble-prone Khaled Abdo for Cowans’ charges whilst Ola Aina was Drummy’s final replacement as he replaced Musonda in order to allow Ssewankambo to move into midfield and solidify the middle of the team for the final ten minutes. The additional security of the new arrivals proved sufficient to see off the best Villa had to offer and the Blues finished the stronger as they sought to hold onto all three points. Van Ginkel rattled the crossbar from long range as the match ticked into stoppage time before Swift won a penalty after a clumsy and tired trip by defender Janoi Donacien.
He wasn’t afforded the chance to score his first ever hat-trick as Baker pulled rank to smash home from the spot for his own 14th goal of the season and ensured three points for Chelsea that all but ensure they’ll take part in the end of season playoffs. Any sort of result on Saturday at home to West Bromwich Albion at Cobham could mathematically guarantee them of a top four finish as the Under-21s go in search of a domestic title to add to their 2011 success.
Aston Villa: Hill, Leggett, Nehemie, Stieber, Donacien, Webb, Abdo (Lyden 74), Burke, Robinson, Johnson (c), Graham
Subs not Used: Wildin, Bannister, McKirdy, R.Strain
Chelsea: Blackman, Ssewankambo, Davey, Aké (c), Nditi (Christensen 66), Van Ginkel, Swift, Baker, Mitchell (Brown 53), C.Musonda (Aina 78), Feruz
Subs not Used: Collins, T.Musonda