For the second match in succession, Chelsea’s Development Squad found themselves pitted against an opponent with significant first-team representation, but Adi Viveash’s young charges showed they had learned many a lesson from their 4-1 defeat to Arsenal last time out as they held an experienced Southampton team to a goalless draw at St Mary’s Stadium on Monday evening.
In a match played out at the same time as the first team fixture at West Ham United, there were few moments of real quality, but the Blues will have come away much the happier of the two sides as they looked assured, confident and competitive against a team featuring multiple internationals.
Perhaps in revenge for Chelsea’s decision to field the likes of John Terry, Cesc Fabregas and Michy Batshuayi in the reverse fixture before Christmas, Southampton’s starting eleven included nine players that have made a first-team appearance this season. Winter arrivals Mouez Hassen and Martin Caceres joined Pierre Hojbjerg, Sofiane Boufal and Jay Rodriguez in an imposing team, whilst Chelsea conversely handed a first ever start at this level to Harvey St Clair, a first start of the season with this group for Josh Grant, and just a second of the campaign to Richard Nartey.
Without the more seasoned Ola Aina, Dominic Solanke or Charly Musonda either, their cause wasn’t helped by losing Todd Kane during the warm-up, leaving goalkeeper and captain Brad Collins as the sole player over the age of 19 in the starting eleven. However, they were rarely daunted by the challenge ahead of them, and began well with Scott trying his luck from distance inside the opening ten minutes.
Southampton enjoyed impressive passages, particularly in wide areas, but neither Rodriguez nor Sam McQueen could make the most of decent opportunities on the left side, whilst the ever-lively Josh Sims went close on the right before finding his path to goal closed by Trevoh Chalobah and Ruben Sammut, who was drafted in to replace Kane at the eleventh hour.
St Clair forced Hassen into the first save of note with a low strike from just outside the area, earning a corner that produced the best chance of the half for the visitors. Chalobah was unable to make clean contact with the delivery, causing a goalmouth scramble, where Ugbo couldn’t quite bundle the ball over the line from close range. Rodriguez lashed over after collecting a long ball from Sims, who himself then worked Collins with a good effort from the right, but things were deservedly all square at the break.
Jacob Maddox, impressive as usual in an industrious roving midfield role that belied his slender build, had the first sight of second half goalmouth action when Hassen punched a corner in his general direction, but a crowded penalty area denied him, but he was at the very least more impressive than the high-profile Boufal at the other end. The club record £16m signing was scarcely involved in possession before picking up a yellow card for a petulant shove on Kyle Scott and then being replaced almost immediately by manager Martin Hunter.
Jake Hesketh spurned Southampton’s best moment of the entire match when he skied high over the crossbar from just eight yards out after more good play by Sims, but the match continued to swing back and forth with decent moments for both sides. Dujon Sterling’s bulldozing run from full-back ended with a shot which stung the hands of Hassen, whilst Collins twice had to keep the Saints at bay as he frustrated Tyreke Johnson and Harrison Reed with confident saves to preserve his clean sheet.
Chelsea finished the stronger of the two but, despite a late move involving Sterling and Mason Mount, they couldn’t leave their mark on the scoresheet and instead will take the positives from arresting a two-game losing run and producing a vastly better account of themselves than against Arsenal a fortnight ago.
Collins, Scott and Mount all impressed in the spine of the team and, along with Sammut, began to show signs of the leadership Viveash has been after in recent weeks, whilst the fresher faces of Nartey, Grant and St Clair all looked the part as they begin to transition fully into life at this level. The Development Squad return to action in a week’s time away to Liverpool in a fixture to be played at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park.
Southampton: Hassen, Valery, McQueen, Reed, Caceres, Jones, Sims, Hojbjerg, Rodriguez, Boufal (Johnson 56), Hesketh
Subs not Used: Cook, Lewis, O’Connor, Seager
Chelsea: Collins, Sterling, Nartey, T.Chalobah, Grant, Scott, Sammut, Maddox, Ugbo, Mount, St Clair (Christie-Davies 90)
Subs not Used: Thompson, Colley, Quintero