Chelsea’s Under-21s remain without a win since the opening day of the season as they went down to a 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester City on Monday evening.
It was a typically close and well-matched contest between two of the country’s leading academies but City fared better on a chilly evening at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium and won courtesy of a first-half Bersant Celina free-kick and a late second from Frenchman Thierry Ambrose.
It was almost the brightest of starts for Chelsea as Tammy Abraham sought to take full advantage of a favourable deflection as the ball hit referee Ian Cooper to set him free on goal, but despite rounding visiting goalkeeper Ian Lawlor, he found his route to goal blocked by the foot of the near post.
The two teams exchanged goalmouth incident in the opening quarter of an hour and City were able to give as good as they got; Under-21 debutant Rodney Kongolo bringing a good save out of Brad Collins as he connected with Celina’s corner with an unmarked header. Celina has, over the past season or two, garnered himself a reputation as something of a set-piece specialist and with nineteen minutes played, showed exactly why.
An attempted backheel by Charlie Colkett sold Jake Clarke-Salter slightly short and forced the young defender into a late trip on the lively Ambrose. Celina stepped up and clipped the ensuing free kick over the wall and beyond the reach of Collins to make it 1-0. It was the second time the Kosovan-Norwegian playmaker had converted from that sort of position at Aldershot this year, having also netted at the other end for the Under-18s in a 3-3 draw back in May.
In response, Charly Musonda decided to give as good as he got with his own dead-ball antics. George Glendon’s trip on Scott allowed the Belgian youngster to set things up and, although his effort looked destined for the top corner, Lawlor produced a stunning one-handed save to parry the ball away for a corner.
Clarke-Salter’s header was then easily gathered as Chelsea looked to make amends in double-quick time but they were frustrated for long spells as the game ticked towards half time, whilst City looked more and more comfortable and happy to play on the break. Nemane’s busy activity on the left kept Ola Aina and Fikayo Tomori busy, although they did combine to give Celina another free kick opportunity just before the break; this time he struck the robust Chelsea wall instead.
Collins had to be alert within moments of the restart to prevent Ambrose from scoring at the near post after good work by Kongolo, before a couple of harum-scarum moments threatened to allow Chelsea back into the match. First, Maffeo misjudged Colkett’s searching ball and let Isaac Christie-Davies – making his full Under-21 debut – in behind only for Lawlor to deal with his cross, then Colkett’s own low, driven free-kick from wide on the right took a touch off Ambrose but there, once again, was the City goalkeeper to calm the threat.
Abraham led a spirited charge from the hosts as the clock ticked into the last quarter of action, twice showing an impressive touch to trap the ball before working room for a shot, but having missed the target with his first try, he planted the second straight into the waiting arms of Lawlor from just inside the penalty area.
The probing continued as Musonda couldn’t make the most of Colkett’s cross, and as the blue shirts piled forward, City found ample opportunity to exploit the space left behind. Celina rampaged into plenty of it with ten minutes remaining, feeding Nemane who in turn found Ambrose, but a near-certain goal was instead prevented by a desperate goal-line clearance by Aina.
It only served to delay the inevitable. Celina played the role of string-puller once again a minute later, leading Ambrose into space, whereupon the Frenchman composed himself and steered his strike under Collins to clinch the three points. There could even have been a third when Tomori intervened on the line to prevent Celina from doubling his personal tally for the evening but that in itself would have reflected harshly on Chelsea overall.
City deservedly took the win home with them though, leaving Viveash’s youngsters to pick themselves up and regroup before hosting Tottenham Hotspur on Friday night.
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Dabo, Colkett (c), Mitchell, Scott, Abraham, Musonda, Christie-Davies (Ali 86)
Subs not Used: Grant, Thompson, Quintero, Conroy
Manchester City: Lawlor, Maffeo, Adarabioyo, Bryan (c), Smith-Brown, Glendon, Nmecha (Faupala 64), Kongolo, Ambrose, Celina (Brahim 86), Nemane (Intima 83)
Subs not Used: Tattum, O’Brien
Goal: Celina ’19, Ambrose ‘82