Under-21s: Chelsea 1-0 Middlesbrough

Chelsea’s Under-21s signed off for 2015 with a narrow and hard-fought 1-0 win over Middlesbrough at Cobham on Monday night.

Both sides came into the match at the wrong end of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League table and the damage was done early on as Kasey Palmer’s ninth goal of the season proved enough to keep the three points down South and bring the Blues level on points with the Reds at the end of the calendar year.

As they have been in a number of recent matches, Chelsea were in sprightly form from the off and had established a lead with less than three minutes played. Charly Musonda linked well with Tammy Abraham down the left and although the eventual cut back owed something to a deflection, it nonetheless found Palmer, who was able to nudge it into the bottom corner with the outside of his right foot.

The pattern of the game then oscillated back and forth fairly predictably; Chelsea enjoying plenty of possession, probing for a way through, whilst Middlesbrough were happy to soak it up and look to play on the break, with livewire Harry Chapman their most potent threat and regular outlet. It didn’t take him long to come to life in response, first whirring his way past Mukhtar Ali to provoke a near-post save from Brad Collins, then whipping in a teasing cross from the left that gave Joao Morelli a chance of goal he couldn’t quite take.

A similarly impressive cross from Fankaty Dabo at the other end was met with a full-blooded header by the unlikely figure of Charly Musonda only for the resulting effort to land straight in the hands of goalkeeper Joe Fryer, but it came during a spell of complete control for Chelsea as they settled things down and dictated the flow of the game. Palmer’s volley was blocked by Dael Fry and Musonda’s left-footed lash saved by Fryer with a second goal clearly high on the agenda, and a number of left-sided crosses from Jay Dasilva were only inches away from connecting with Abraham in the middle.

Musonda continued to provide the attacking spark, given the freedom to roam around alongside Palmer in the Blues’ 3-4-2-1 formation, and their combined elusiveness proved a constant menace to Boro’s back four. The young Belgian put one just wide after working hard to retrieve a long ball on the left, then worked Fryer from a free kick won by Palmer after Fry had brought him down.

The one-way traffic was momentarily interrupted when Morelli spurned the clearance chance Paul Jenkins’ visitors had mustered, volleying high and wide when presented with a ball that sat up in space and begged to be hit, but it duly resumed close to half time. Abraham conjured up a glancing header to meet Fikayo Tomori’s cross but it never threatened the target before Charlie Colkett ended the half with a chance that he let run just too wide before whacking it straight at the body of the grateful Fryer.

Two corners from the right gave the home team their brightest moments in the fledgling moments of the second half but neither Jake Clarke-Salter nor Abraham could make the most of them, and in between there was a golden opportunity for Chapman to make something happen when he ghosted in behind to latch onto a long ball but, with no communication offered to him by a red-shirted team-mate, he looked to cross when he had plenty of time to take a touch and shoot himself.

He then got the better of sixteen year-old Trevoh Chalobah en route to sliding one across the face of Collins’ goal to no avail, and Musonda fared little better in response as he took continued his efforts to impact the scoresheet. He couldn’t quite connect with a volley following good work on the left and then had one blocked by Mark Kitching as Palmer and Abraham linked well after winning the ball back high up the pitch.

With time against them yet only in need of one goal, Boro increased the urgency in the game’s final quarter but the Chelsea rearguard continued to be well-marshalled. Lewis Maloney exhibited their frustration with a wayward effort from long range and their increased forward focus left some holes for Viveash’s side to exploit. Palmer’s backheeled volley, similar to the one he scored at West Ham back in January, went very close indeed to doubling the lead but it remained 1-0.

Andre Bennett’s cross from the right begged for a touch from an obliging forward but none were forthcoming and then, with five minutes left on the clock, a quite outstanding double save by Collins preserved the clean sheet and the three points for Chelsea. A corner from the right found Robbie Tinkler, who saw his initial shot saved but surely could not have expected to see Collins recover from a semi-prone position to claw the rebound away from an open goal at point-blank range.

That would prove to be their moment and, having not taken it, they weren’t able to muster up one final effort. Chelsea played out the final few minutes and four additional ones with a measured composure, confidence and awareness that will doubtless have pleased Viveash greatly. Their manager had labelled this as their ‘biggest match for some time’ coming into it and the win not only keeps up a recent upturn in form following an autumn of struggles, but gives them momentum going into the new year.

Chelsea: Collins, Dabo, Tomori, Chalobah, Clarke-Salter, Colkett (c), Palmer (Scott 90), Ali, Abraham, Musonda, J.Dasilva
Subs not Used: Baxter, Mitchell, Wakefield, Colley

Goal: Palmer ‘3
Booked: Chalobah

Middlesbrough: Fryer, Bennett, Fry, Williams, Kitching, Tinkler, Morelli (Pattison 84), Maloney (Coulson 90), Jakupovic, Morris, Chapman
Subs not Used: Coddington, Johnson, Elsdon

Booked: Fry, Kitching, Tinkler