Chelsea’s Under-21s twice came from behind to earn a point away to Norwich City in front of more than 9,000 at Carrow Road on Friday night.
The Canaries took the lead through Conor McGrandles but were pegged back by a rare Ola Aina goal. Tony Andreu restored their lead in first-half stoppage time but a finely-crafted goal by Charly Musonda ensured the Blues returned south with something to show for what was a strong team performance.
Adi Viveash’s team were returning to action after two weeks without a competitive fixture, although a 3-1 friendly victory over Brentford last week saw some players get much-needed minutes, and it meant several players were once again available for selection. Mitchell Beeney returned in place of Brad Collins in goal and Aina was able to take his place at right-back with Fikayo Tomori out injured. Dion Conroy and Jake Clarke-Salter paired up in the middle with Fankaty Dabo on the left.
That meant a move into midfield for Jay Dasilva after having done so during the course of each of the first two matches of the campaign. He played alongside John Swift in the middle of the pitch, leaving a flexible triumvirate of Musonda, Scott and Kasey Palmer in attacking midfield behind captain Tammy Abraham.
Norwich utilised their full allowance of over-age representation in the form of goalkeeper Jake Kean plus Martin Olsson, Elliott Bennett and Andreu, whilst they were captained by a former Swindon Town youngster with more than sixty senior appearances to his name already in Louis Thompson. They could well have been ahead inside two minutes as well with Bennett doing well down the right before delivering a dangerous cross for Jamar Loza, but he could only watch as his awkward header was kept out by Beeney.
Nevertheless, Chelsea were enjoying the better of the opening exchanges, moving the ball into attacking areas well and probing for a breakthrough. Swift’s ball into the channels to find a familiar run from Abraham paid off but the finish wasn’t quite there, and when Musonda found space to trick his way into a shooting position, he found his path to goal blocked by the resolute Afolabi Coker.
Palmer moved into more central areas in a bid to get more involved and in doing so fashioned two shooting opportunities inside sixty seconds. They were both of his own making; the first the result of a smart turn away from Thompson to smash a fierce effort at Kean, who was able to beat it away, and the second a wayward left-footed half-volley he teed up himself after a pass from Musonda.
Such was their ascendancy at the time, it was very much against the run of play that Norwich then took the lead. Bennett escaped the attentions of Dabo again and this time was able to pick out the well-timed run of McGrandles, who deftly guided his finish inside Beeney’s near post from six yards out.
The visitors took some time to settle back into their game – Swift was booked for a needless lunge on Olsson – but they were still in control and deservedly drew level five minutes before half time. Musonda’s corner from the left was flicked on at the near post by Swift and converted on the line by the unmarked Aina. It was his first goal at Under-21 level and only his second competitive strike in Chelsea colours, the last coming in a similar vein against Schalke in last season’s UEFA Youth League.
They could have then gone ahead before the break but Musonda and Scott saw shots blocked and Palmer had one saved by Kean and, instead, they returned to the dressing room 2-1 behind. A soft free kick was conceded and followed by softer marking in the penalty area, allowing Andreu the relatively simple task of nodding home to give Dmitri Halajko’s side a lead their play hadn’t really deserved.
Each team made a change at the break, Norwich replacing Olsson with Harry Toffolo and Chelsea introducing Reece Mitchell for Scott, but neither impacted the game very much in a very quiet opening to the second half. The Blues regularly looked to hit Abraham with direct passes from the back but all too frequently lacked the necessary accuracy, leaving the prolific front man both isolated and frustrated.
They did eventually draw level a few minutes past the hour mark. An innocuous corner was somehow fumbled by Kean and it allowed Chelsea to retain possession and build another attack. Palmer collected the ball and delivered an inch-perfect through-ball to Musonda, who was able to pass it into the back of the net for 2-2.
He almost became provider three minutes later when winning back possession with a slide tackle and, although Abraham seized on the chance by firing past Kean, he was in an offside position. Well on top at this stage, there looked like being only one winner with Norwich not able to get out of their own half but a mistake by Conroy allowed Andreu to give Thompson a sight of goal; one he couldn’t take.
Back came Chelsea though, Mitchell and Palmer both kept out by Kean’s best saves of the night inside the final ten minutes. With things becoming a little more stretched Norwich too had reason to believe they could once again steal ahead but Conroy’s timely intervention to tackle Loza more than atoned for his earlier error. Speculative late efforts from Bennett and Aina respectively came to nothing and the points were shared with the same scoreline as last season finished with between the two teams.
Norwich City: Kean, Hall-Johnson, Olsson (Toffolo 45), Thompson (c), Efete, Coker, Bennett, McGrandles, Loza, Andreu, King (Eaton-Collins 75)
Subs not Used: Norman, Killip, Grant
Goals: McGrandles, Andreu
Booked: Thompson, Hall-Johnson
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina, Conroy, Clarke-Salter, Dabo, Dasilva, Musonda, Swift, Abraham (c), Scott (Mitchell 45¬), Palmer
Subs not Used: Collins, Wright, Quintero, Suljic
Booked: Swift, Dabo