Chelsea extended their unbeaten Under-21 league run to six matches stretching back to November with a 3-1 win away to Reading at the Madejski Stadium on Monday evening.
The majority of the action came early with Tammy Abraham and Jacob Maddox, making his maiden appearance at this level, scoring for the Blues either side of a Tariqe Fosu equaliser. The visitors enjoyed the better of things thereafter, making and spurning a host of chances before Reece Mitchell secured an important three points midway through the second half.
Playing their third game in seven days, there was understandably more rotation from Adi Viveash following Thursday’s Under-21 International Cup exit at the hands of PSV Eindhoven. Mitchell Beeney, Trevoh Chalobah, Kevin Wright, Jordan Houghton, Alex Kiwomya, Josimar Quintero and Kasey Palmer all took a back seat, meaning starts for Brad Collins, Fikayo Tomori, Ola Aina, Charlie Colkett, Mukhtar Ali, Kyle Scott and Maddox.
A frantic first half brought three goals, two efforts off the woodwork and a host of clear-cut chances which went to the wayside, and it was all-action from the start. Less than two minutes were on the clock when Scott played Abraham in with a ball in behind, and the big forward was gifted his 23rd of the season by Reading goalkeeper Lewis Ward, who came for and completely missed the ball to leave an open goal behind.
The Chelsea lead lasted barely five minutes. Aaron Kuhl flighted a free kick in from a deep position on the right and, although Dion Conroy got his head to the ball, it went no further than Fosu, who shaped onto his left foot before thundering an effort past Collins with the aid of both the crossbar and the goalpost.
The woodwork would have a busy five minutes as each team found themselves frustrated at either end in quick succession. The hosts were first to curse their luck as Andrija Novakovich met Liam Kelly’s cross only to find a combination of Collins and his left-hand post in the way, whilst Chelsea went down the other end with Maddox jinking his way into the box before cutting the ball back for Abraham, who beat Ward but not the foot of his own upright.
Chances came easily for Abraham in the first forty-five minutes and he really should have had a brace when Colkett broke up play in midfield and set him on his way, but this time Ward was out to make a sprawling stop to foil him. Collins too was kept busy when scrambling clear from a Zak Jules effort facilitated by Sammi Fridjonsson’s monster throw-in.
A third goal was inevitable and it went Chelsea’s way with Maddox showing remarkable composure and technique for a 17 year-old making his maiden appearance at Under-21 level. He collected Abraham’s feed and took his time in rounding Ward to tuck home his eighth goal of the season. This time the Blues, in black for the evening, settled things down and were good value for their half-time lead, almost going in with a greater advantage after Aina drew Ward into a smart save with a low effort that bounced awkwardly just in front of him.
The rapid pace of proceedings couldn’t last all night but the second half still brought a steady stream of chances. Fosu wasted an ambitious long-ranger right into Collins’ arms but Fridjonsson asked somewhat more of him with a glancing near-post header at a corner soon after, whilst Mitchell kept Ward alert in response with a fizzing effort into the side netting.
Chelsea pieced together the game’s best passage of play on the hour mark in a sublime passing move with Scott at the heart of it but, with Abraham in on goal, he looked for one pass too many to Mitchell and the chance went begging. However, Mitchell only had to wait three more minutes before getting on the scoresheet, clipping home from six yards out after substitute Palmer displayed quick feet and quicker thinking in the Reading penalty area.
Ward then twice denied Scott a chance to put the result beyond all doubt but Chelsea had tightened up in defence, leaving the likes of Kelly and Fridjonsson with just half-hearted scraps from unfavourable angles late in the game. The win lifts the Blues up a spot in the league to establish them firmly in mid-table and, with games in hand on all around them beginning Friday against Leicester City at Aldershot, hopes of a top three or four finish are still very much a possibility with a third of their fixtures remaining.
Reading: Ward, Watson, Owusu (Rinomhota 69), Fridjonsson, Jules, Shaughnessy (Husin 72), Novakovich (Osho 62), Kuhl (c), Cardwell, Kelly, Fosu
Subs not Used: Southwood, Semedo
Goal: Fosu ‘7
Booked: Kelly, Fosu, Fridjonsson, Husin
Chelsea: Collins, Dabo (c), Tomori, Conroy, Aina, Colkett (Palmer 53), Maddox (Kiwomya 75), Ali, Abraham, Scott, Mitchell
Subs not Used: Wright, Baxter, Quintero
Goals: Abraham ‘2, Maddox ’21, Mitchell ‘63
Booked: Colkett, Aina