Chelsea’s search for an Under-23 victory will go on for at least another week after they shared a 2-2 draw at home to Derby County on Monday evening at Aldershot in a fixture headlined by Kurt Zouma’s first match action since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in February.
He was at the centre of attention in the first half, conceding a penalty from which Callum Guy eventually scored after the initial attempt had been saved. Jay Dasilva, who was later sent off, equalised with a spot kick of his own to spark a flurry of three goals in four minutes; Iké Ugbo establishing a lead for the Blues which was almost immediately wiped out by Farred Rawson’s towering header. Both sides might have gone on to win it but, for the third time in eight league games, the spoils were shared.
After the disappointment of last week’s Checkatrade Trophy exit at the hands of Exeter City, Adi Viveash made several changes to his starting eleven, the most notable of which was the inclusion of Zouma. Charlie Wakefield, Dujon Sterling and Mason Mount all dropped out in favour of Mukhtar Ali, Isaac Christie-Davies and Kyle Scott, and there was a change of system as the 3-4-2-1 was deployed with Zouma joining Fikayo Tomori and Trevoh Chalobah in a three-man defence.
Neither side can claim to have enjoyed the 2016-17 campaign too much so far, with Chelsea coming into the match on a five-match winless run and Derby having tasted defeat in their first five league outings, and the nervous start from both sides underlined those facts. The Blues might have been ahead several times in the opening ten minutes as Dasilva exploited plenty of space down the left but neither Scott nor Christie-Davies were able to hit the target from the edge of the area.
Scott’s cross allowed Iké Ugbo to get up to beat goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell to the ball but saw his header fly over the crossbar, and when Christie-Davies did get one on target, it was straight at the Derby goalkeeper. At the other end, Chalobah’s intervention from Kyron Stabana’s cross saw off the best the visitors had to offer whilst Zouma had eased himself through the first twenty minutes of play on his return to action.
Ugbo almost capitalised on Jamie Hanson’s poor backpass and Ali spun a shot wide following typically good play down the right from captain Fankaty Dabo, but as the first half wore on Chelsea grew frustrated at their inability to carve out goalscoring chances of note, a theme which has been developing in recent weeks. Ugbo had one more good attempt deflected wide but Derby came on strong towards half time and, when their moment came calling, they took it.
Unfortunately for Zouma, it came from the penalty spot after the Frenchman mistimed a slide tackle on Charles Vernam after Callum Guy had surged powerfully towards goal from inside his own half. Vernam, the Premier League 2’s leading goalscorer, saw his spot kick saved by Brad Collins, but Guy responded faster than anyone else in blue to slam home the rebound to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Birthday boy Sterling replaced Zouma at the break and made an impact within fifteen seconds, pulling over a cross from the right which was almost turned into his own net by Josh Lelan at the near post. A similar delivery two minutes later gave Ugbo a glimmer of hope which was quickly extinguished but it was all about Sterling and, with an hour played, his pace and enthusiasm paid off. Chasing down a long ball from the back, Calum MacDonald clumsily brought him down just inside the area, and Dasilva stepped up to convert from the spot for his second goal of the season.
Less than a minute later the Blues took the lead. Dasilva this time turned provider, working hard to beat his man down the left before finding Ugbo twelve yards out; his first touch opened things up for him to rifle an unstoppable finish past Mitchell and complete the turn-around.
Or so they thought. The lead lasted a matter of two minutes as a simple corner to the far post saw Rawson outjump Chalobah and head home from inside the six yard box, far too easily for all involved. The topsy-turvy action didn’t stop there either; Dasilva received a second yellow card for a foul on Kellan Gordon and the hosts would have to complete the final twenty minutes with ten men.
Substitutions all round followed with Derby keen to exploit their numerical advantage, but Viveash was in no mood to shut up shop. Mount replaced Christie-Davies in a straight swap whilst Ruben Sammut made way for Miro Muheim, with the Swiss youngster slotting into Dasilva’s spot on the left. Still looking dangerous going forward, Mount linked well with Sterling firstly for a cross well-held by Mitchell, and then a snap-shot which was deflected behind for a corner.
Mitchell had to be at his best to react smartly to Ali’s low effort which skidded off the slick turf after Sterling had once again beaten his man out wide, and Tomori just couldn’t quite reach a high, hanging corner from Muheim. Derby ended up content to play out a draw despite being a man up, and whilst Chelsea’s search for a victory continues, they can take heart from a good second-half display in general. They return to action on Hallowe’en evening away to Everton hoping for better on Merseyside.
Chelsea: Collins, Dabo (c), Zouma (Sterling 45), Tomori, T.Chalobah, Scott, Ali, Sammut (Muheim 80), Ugbo, Christie-Davies (Mount 74), J.Dasilva
Subs not Used: Baxter, Maddox
Goals: Dasilva ’61 (pen), Ugbo ‘62
Booked: Christie-Davies, Zouma, Dasilva, Scott
Sent Off: Dasilva
Derby County: Mitchell, Stabana, MacDonald (Cover 62), Hanson, Rawson (c), Lelan, Gordon, Guy, Bennett (Walker 90), Elsnik (Babos 78), Vernam
Subs not Used: Ravas, Jakobson
Goals: Guy ’38, Rawson ‘64
Booked: Bennett, Hanson