Under-21s: Chelsea 3-3 Reading

At the end of the summer transfer window Charly Musonda, who had been expected to go out on loan only for a number of factors to ultimately go against him, told the Belgian press of a positive discussion with Jose Mourinho in which he came away with the impression that there would be some first team minutes for him this season.

At the end of a week in which the most glaring opportunity for those minutes to materialise came and went with a comfortable 4-1 win at Walsall – a win for which Musonda didn’t so much as travel for – the young playmaker shrugged off any notions of disappointment or resentment with a scintillating display in Chelsea Under-21’s engrossing 3-3 draw with Reading at Stamford Bridge.

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The Blues trailed to an early goal by promising Reading forward Rowan Liburd but, led by Musonda and the increasingly influential Kasey Palmer, the Blues shrugged off a tepid first-half display with a rip-roaring comeback. Tammy Abraham equalised from the penalty spot after Musonda had teased full-back Sean Long into a foul inside the box, and a rare Dion Conroy goal gave them the lead early in the second half from the same supplier.

Palmer’s sixth goal in three outings looked to have sewn up the points for Adi Viveash’s young charges but they took their foot off the gas in the closing stages – Musonda’s substitution conspicuously coinciding with the swing in momentum – and a second from Liburd was followed by a stoppage-time stunner by Liam Kelly ensured the spoils were ultimately shared.

Liburd’s opener came midway through the first half and possessed all the hallmarks of a player in tip-top form. A summer signing from non-league Billericay Town after honing his skills on a scholarship in the United States, the one-time Chelsea academy youngster roared into space down the left side before opening his body and guiding an effort beyond the reach of goalkeeper Brad Collins for his league-leading seventh goal of the season.

It was just about deserved on the balance of play, although both sides had seen their share of openings in an entertaining opening spell. Abraham pushed one wide of the post whilst a mistake by Conroy allowed American forward Andrija Novakovich in for a chance he should have done much better with, but Liburd’s unerring accuracy had given his side the upper hand.

Musonda and Palmer began to weave their magic though, resulting in a decent spell of pressure for the young Blues. The latter spun away from his man in midfield and galloped towards goal before laying off to John Swift, who found Royals stopper Lewis Ward in his way, and Musonda continued to find little pockets of space in which to operate before ultimately being crowded out.

Collins had to be relied upon to prevent Liburd from doubling his tally in order to allow Chelsea to equalise just before half time. Musonda’s quick feet provoked an ugly and mis-timed lunge by Long for as clear a penalty as you’ll see all weekend, and Abraham duly dispatched his spot kick from twelve yards, sending Ward the wrong way.

The turnaround was completed early in the second half when Conroy stooped to get on the end of Musonda’s free kick from deep on the right wing and not only were Viveash’s side good value for their newly-acquired lead, they went on to play some of the best football of the campaign so far in the fifteen minutes immediately thereafter.

Palmer, Abraham and Musonda all encountered frustration in seeking to extend the advantage further whilst the latter came even closer when he fired into the side netting after a delightful exchange with Swift before neatly spinning away from his man inside the box.

A third goal at this stage appeared an inevitability and moreover that Palmer would be involved; so it proved when, moments after he had seen Ward tip a low strike away for a corner, he fed off Abraham’s strong hold-up play to latch onto a bouncing ball and hook it into the far corner of the Matthew Harding Stand goal. 3-1.

The result didn’t seem to be in any particular doubt, even with Reading using all three substitutes in an effort to spark a revival of their own, but whether it was because of Musonda’s departure to give Alex Kiwomya a run-out or not, the flow of the game slowly began to go back in the visitors’ favour. Enlivened by three sets of fresh legs in midfield, they played with the urgency their situation required and were back within a goal ten minutes from time when some sloppy defending allowed Liburd to lift the ball over the head of Collins and provide a genuine lifeline.

Despite the presence of first-team squad experience in the form of Ola Aina and Bertrand Traore, Chelsea weren’t able to get a handle on things and control the game to see the result out. Two minutes into stoppage time, Swift clattered into Nana Owusu on the edge of the box, allowing set-piece specialist Kelly to step and and whip an unstoppable shot across Collins and into the top corner.

The point takes them back to joint-top of the league with Southampton, whilst Chelsea temporarily move up to fifth. The next Under-21 league action is a month away, with a trip to Manchester City at the end of the extended hiatus.

Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Conroy, Clarke-Salter, Wright, Dasilva, Traore, Swift, Abraham (c) (Mitchell 87), Palmer, Musonda (Kiwomya 73 (Dabo 90))
Subs not Used: Baxter, Scott

Goals: Abraham ’38 (pen), Conroy ’54, Palmer ‘65
Booked: Swift

Reading: Ward, Long, Griffin, Shaughnessy (Husin 77), Hyam, Sweeney (c), Rinomhota (Owusu 72), Kelly, Liburd, Novakovich (Fridjonsson 73), Fosu

Goals: Liburd ’20, ’80, Kelly ‘90