Chelsea’s Development Squad produced a good performance away to Reading on Monday night but came away from the Madejski Stadium pointless after going down to an unlikely 2-1 defeat.
Iké Ugbo’s first-half strike was the least the Blues had deserved for a thoroughly dominant first half and, although their second half display didn’t quite hit the same notes, the notion of a defeat seemed unlikely until Sam Smith added to Tyler Frost’s equaliser to consign them to their first Premier League 2 defeat.
With the contest representing the first of two fixtures book-ending the week for Chelsea, Adi Viveash truly rang the changes for the first time this season. Ruben Sammut and Mukhtar Ali came into the midfield for their first starts this term, as did Miro Muheim on the left wing, and there were places from the off for loanees Mitchell Beeney and Jake Clarke-Salter as they each looked to improve their match fitness, with the terms of their youth loans allowing them to return for development team duties.
Reading’s starting eleven was considerably more experienced and included several players with Championship appearances to their names but they were welcoming a buoyant and confident side to Berkshire, one that has significantly outplayed its age and (lack of) experience thus far, and that trend continued throughout a dominant first half from the visitors.
It took a little while for things to get going – Ali going close on ten minutes after good work by Dujon Sterling the exception – but Chelsea were patient and probing in possession, tiring Reading out before looking to pounce. It might have been a very different story had Harry Cardwell not fluffed his lines when trying to get on the end of Josh Barrett’s cross, but that was as good as it got for Martin Kuhl’s side in the opening stages.
Ugbo drew a good save from Stuart Moore with a powerful hit from outside the box before then planting a strike straight at defender Zak Jules when well-placed, and Mason Mount followed that with a beautiful left-footed curler that pinged back off the frame of the goal. It was the first of three opportunities in as many minutes from the talented 17 year-old playmaker but Moore kept him at bay with each follow-up try, and Muheim then failed to connect with Clarke-Salter’s cross from the left as Chelsea turned the screw.
The goal arrived with two minutes remaining in the first half. Ugbo did well to win possession in Reading territory and then loped forward looking to release Charlie Wakefield outside him on the right. The pass itself was poor but Wakefield was able to rescue things and work enough space to stand up a cross which was gleefully headed home by his goalscoring team-mate for a second goal of the campaign.
With Mount and Wakefield picking right up where they left off upon the resumption of second half play it was hard to see how Reading would find a way back into things but the Royals were able to turn things around. Frost gambled with a late run from deep and his luck was in as the ball rolled into his path to allow him to steer a smart finish in off the far post.
Barrett really should have then given his side the lead less than sixty seconds later after Harrison Bennett had put him clean through on goal but, from a similar position, this time Beeney stood up tall and made a good save with his feet.
It demanded a response from Viveash’s boys and it got it. Mount and substitute Josi Quintero came close to restoring the lead whilst Jay Dasilva was inches away from converting with a craftily-flighted free kick which had Moore beaten. It wasn’t quite as dominant as the first half but there was still only one side really making things happen and Ugbo was only kept from adding to his tally by another Moore stop in a move that owed much to Clarke-Salter’s quality approach play.
And, for all that, they ended up without anything to show for their endeavours. With four minutes left on the clock Sam Smith, only on as a sub himself for a matter of moments, got the luck of the bounce in a challenge with Chalobah and found himself with just Beeney to beat, which he did expertly.
Chelsea worked hard at the death to make something from nothing but it was to no avail and they will have to pick themselves up and learn a few harsh lessons ahead of the visit of Arsenal to Stamford Bridge this Friday. Tickets are on sale now priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Reading: Moore (c), Shephard, Griffin, Bennett (East 72), McIntyre, Jules, Barrett (Vancooten 65), Rinomhota, Cardwell (Smith 82), Frost, Novakovich
Subs not Used: Southwood, Andresson
Goal: Frost ’52, Smith ‘86
Booked: Griffin, Rinomhota
Chelsea: Beeney, Sterling, T.Chalobah, Clarke-Salter, J.Dasilva (c), Ali, Wakefield, Sammut, Ugbo, Mount (Christie-Davies 75), Muheim (Quintero 59)
Subs not Used: Dabo, Cumming, Colley
Goal: Ugbo ‘43