Chelsea returned to Under-21 league action on Thursday evening and they did so with a win, defeating Everton 3-0 courtesy of Jordan Houghton’s opener, a late own goal by former Milton Keynes Dons defender Brendan Galloway which may yet be claimed by Tammy Abraham, who then added a third deep into stoppage time having come off the bench to great effect.
With the match coming during a busy period of high-stakes football for the academy in both the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup, there was a slightly muted feel to proceedings at Aldershot’s Electrical Services Stadium, and with an FA Youth Cup Final Second Leg to come, few risks were taken with many of those set to feature at Stamford Bridge given the night off.
Ola Aina, Izzy Brown and Jeremie Boga were included in Adi Viveash’s starting eleven though, as were three players who train with Jose Mourinho’s squad on a daily basis in Jamal Blackman, Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The rest of an experienced side was made up of Houghton, Fankaty Dabo, Reece Mitchell and Alex Kiwomya as the Blues sought victory to keep up their hopes of surging back up the table and into title contention.
As always, the best match gallery can be seen HERE courtesy of Dan Davies.
Like Chelsea, it was a second game of the week for Everton but manager David Unsworth made just two changes from the side which drew 1-1 at Norwich on Monday; Tom Davies replacing Ryan Ledson and Calum Dyson coming in for Kieran Dowell. They looked off the pace from the start, almost as if they were still feeling the effects of their Carrow Road sojourn, and Chelsea were quickly able to assert their authority and carve out a possession and territorial advantage.
The Blues weren’t able to fashion too many scoring opportunities but did conjure up one or two moments of note, the most interesting being Kiwomya’s powerful run down the right before just failing to find Mitchell with the cutback. Everton stopper Russell Griffiths was called upon to deal with several crosses from the right in the early stages, but there was nothing he could do to stop Chelsea taking a 1-0 lead on 18 minutes.
Boga’s corner from the left came in with pace and swerve, eventually finding Christensen at the far post. He immediately hooked it back into a central area, where Houghton was first to react to stab a powerful header into the roof of the net from six yards out. It was his third goal of the season, having previously scored against Fulham in the league and the Under-21 International Cup.
Kiwomya’s improvised backheel to meet Brown’s caught the eye minutes later but he was denied a highlight-reel goal by a superb reaction save by Griffiths at the near post as Everton really began to struggle under the weight of Chelsea pressure. The intensity usually associated with young Blues teams wasn’t quite as evident as usual but the visitors simply weren’t able to get out of their own half. Dyson was increasingly isolated in attack and on the rare occasion they found space down the flanks, the delivery into the box was extremely disappointing.
That being said, Chelsea’s own inability to make good on their dominance and extend their lead threatened to come back to haunt them later in the half as Unsworth’s side did begin to offer glimpses of their quality. As the clock ticked towards first half injury time, David Henen’s cross found the head of Dyson, but he was only able to flick the header wide of the post, much to the relief of a helpless Blackman.
Chelsea were back on top at the start of the second half with Kiwomya providing the latest testing cross from the left for Griffiths to swat away, and ten minutes after the restart the home team really should have found themselves two to the good. Loftus-Cheek’s smart play in midfield saw him release Brown, who raced onto the pass faster than any Everton defender and squared for Boga, only for the Frenchman to push his shot over an open net.
Everton’s first substitution was to introduce Harry Charsley in place of the quiet Callum Connolly as they picked up the pace a little and enjoyed a positive spell culminating in Henen getting a decent long-distance shot away that saw Blackman make his first real save of the evening. Abraham then replaced the impressive Kiwomya after just more than an hour as he looked to shake off a knock that had prematurely forced him out of action at Manchester City on Monday night.
Former Man Utd scholars Sam Byrne added his considerable presence to the Everton forward line with twenty minutes remaining and might have scored with his first touch, latching onto a pass by Liam Walsh only to send his shot soaring into the darkening night Hampshire sky. Abraham then continued the theme of fresh legs making an impact as his sharpness in the box from a goalmouth scramble near saw him add to his prolific tally, but Griffiths’ strong left hand kept him at bay.
As the game took on an end-to-end feel with points up for grabs in the final quarter of an hour, the additional space created allowed Loftus-Cheek to set off on a typically bustling and powerful run through the heart of the pitch. He drove some fifty yards upfield, skipped away from two or three black shirts before slicing a tired strike into the side netting at the near post.
Brown’s long ball then asked plenty of Abraham up against the burly presence of Browning and Galloway combined in the Everton defence but the 17 year-old proved himself a real handful in jockeying for position and almost fashioning himself a chance, but experience told as the two centre backs scrambled clear. Boga’s wayward shot continued the intent and with five minutes left, the three points were secured as he and Palmer combined well to present a chance for Abraham to tap home from close range, only for Galloway to appear to get there first and turn it in for an own goal.
Being a scorer, he’ll have wanted to claim it for himself, and with the very last kick of the match he made sure he was on the scoresheet regardless as he grabbed a third; running onto Boga’s neat flick and beating Griffiths to the ball before slotting home for what would be his 38th of the season, drawing level with Carlton Cole’s tally from the late 90s as the most in recent Chelsea academy history.
The win sees Chelsea jump up two places to seventh in a remarkably tight Under-21 league table and, with as many as four games in hand on some of their rivals, a chance to retain their national champions crown remains very much a realistic possibility. Attentions now turn to the FA Youth Cup Final Second Leg at Stamford Bridge however, with Chelsea defending a 3-1 lead against Manchester City. Tickets are on sale now priced at £5 for adults and £3 concessions and can only be collected in person from the ticket office now, with all sales ending at 4pm on Monday.
Chelsea: Blackman, Aina (Dasilva 89), Christensen, Conroy, Dabo, Loftus-Cheek, Kiwomya (Abraham), Houghton (c), Brown, Boga, Mitchell (Palmer 72)
Subs not Used: Beeney, Scott
Goals: Houghton ’18, ‘Abraham ’85, ‘90
Everton: Griffiths, Jones, Robinson, Walsh, Browning, Galloway, Kenny, Davies (Byrne 68), Dyson (Dowell 85), Henen, Connolly (Charsley 55)
Subs not Used: Ledson, Hunt