UNDER 21S REPORT: WOLVES 3 CHELSEA 2
The Blues certainly played our part but we were made to pay for defensive errors as Wolverhampton Wanderers ran out 3-2 winners.
They had taken the lead after 26 minutes when Sam Whittal arrived at the far-post to fire past Mitchell Beeney, but the Blues equalised a minute later courtesy of an Islam Feruz volley.
The home side took the lead once more seven minutes before half time when Liam McAlinden pounced on Adam Nditi's back-pass before cleverly lifting the ball over the advancing Beeney as the goalkeeper attempted to narrow the angle.
Seven minutes into the second half, however, it was all-square again, Feruz bagging a brace after latching on to a Billy Clifford pass, but another defensive lapse allowed McAlinden to score the decisive goal when he converted a Jordan Cranston cross.
Chelsea manager Dermot Drummy made four changes to the side which were beaten 3-1 at Fulham just over a fortnight ago. With Jamal Blackman involved with the first team over in Donetsk, Beeney started in goal, while in front of him there were starts for both Andreas Christensen and Nditi, who came in for Alex Davey and Aziz Deen-Conteh respectively. Meanwhile, Feruz, who was a second-half substitute at Craven Cottage, replaced Lucas Piazon as part of a front-three alongside Patrick Bamford and Lewis Baker.
The Blues, desperate to get back to winning ways following a four-game run which had seen us pick up one point from a possible 12, started the game in confident fashion, with Feruz in particular looking threatening.
The young striker, who recently represented Scotland at Under-19 level, has played the majority of matches so far this campaign wide on the right, but Drummy opted to utilise him through the middle for this one, and he was almost rewarded inside the opening few minutes went Feruz went close with a header from a decent Billy Clifford cross.
A minute later he was back in the thick of the action, this time sending a powerful, dipping drive from outside the penalty area narrowly over Wayne Hennessy's bar.
The home side, who were unbeaten since losing 5-0 at Stamford Bridge back in August, soon sprang into life, and they went close twice in quick succession.
First, Nathan Ake made a wonderful saving tackle to deny Zeli Ismail after the forward had used an impressive turn of pace to expose Nditi, while soon after John Gorman should have opened the scoring, but the winger screwed his angled strike inches wide of Beeney's left-hand upright.
Ismail was proving a real source of concern early on as he continued to drop into wide areas and cause us problems, with one cross from the right almost being converted by McAlinden.
It was Chelsea, though, who came closest to breaking the deadlock following a lovely, flowing move down the right-hand side.
Feruz did well to bring the ball under control before finding Billy Clifford, who sent an excellent pass into the path of the advancing Lewis Baker. His delivery was perfect, but as Patrick Bamford lost his marker to meet it, the faintest of touches by Hennessy directed his effort on to the underside of the bar before the home side were able to clear.
It was the game's first moment of real quality, but only a couple of minutes later we fell behind.
Beeney saved well to deny Ismail, but from the resulting corner, slack marking allowed the ball to fall to an unmarked Whitall at the back-post, and the midfielder drove his effort through a crowded box into the back of the net.
Given our recent run of form, it was a goal which asked serious questions of our young side, but the response was emphatic as almost straight from the kick-off we drew level.
The ball was worked out to the left-hand side where Nditi sent a fantastic cross into the path of Feruz who didn't even need to break stride as he calmly volleyed beyond Hennessy into the bottom corner.
The Blues were almost in front 10 minutes prior to the break when Bamford's strike from distance took a wicked deflection, but the home supporters breathed a sigh of relief as it sailed narrowly wide and behind for a corner which came to nothing.
Three minutes later, however, the hosts restored their lead, and it was another mistake which cost us.
Under little pressure, Nditi, who had enjoyed a good first half, attempted to send the ball back to Beeney, but the pass was weak, and McAlinden reacted quickest to latch on to the loose ball and roll his effort beyond the keeper.
Saville tried his luck from outside the box as we looked to quickly restore parity, but that was the last goalmouth action of the half, with Drummy again needing to restore confidence at the break.
The Blues came out for the second half looking to strike back as early as possible, and we were only made to wait seven minutes for the equaliser.
Billy Clifford picked the ball up midway inside the Wolves half, and spotting the run of Feruz, who had intelligently peeled away from his man, Clifford picked him out perfectly, leaving the striker with only Aaron McCarey - who had replaced Hennessy at the break - to beat, which he did with ease to double his tally for the night.
The goal appeared to galvanise the Blues and moments later we should have gone in front.
Todd Kane instigated a quick counter-attack from inside our own penalty area, eventually picking out Billy Clifford wide on the left. Clifford drove at the Wolves defence, and as they backed off his shot took a deflection and ran straight into the path of Baker who somehow steered his shot over the bar as everybody inside the stadium waited for the net to bulge.
It was an opportunity we were made to pay for shortly after when Wolves took the lead for the third time in the game after 64 minutes.
Jordan Cranston swung a low cross into a crowded penalty area from out on the left, and as the Blues defence hesitated and failed to clear their lines, McAlinden arrived to score his second of the night and leave us chasing the game yet again.
With fifteen minutes remaining Drummy made his first substitution of the night, replacing Bamford, who had been fairly quiet, with Lamisha Musonda in a bid to freshen up our attacking play.
Conor Clifford did well to adjust his body and force McCarey into a decent stop low down to his left as we stepped up the pressure with time slipping away, but with Wolves defending resolutely, clear-cup openings were proving hard to come by.
Aziz Deen-Conteh came on for Nditi with 10 minutes left to play as Conor Clifford again stung the palms of McCarey.
It was to be the Irish midfielder's last involvement as he was replaced by Rohan Ince for the closing stages, the last of our three substitutions.
Feruz went close to salvaging a point, not to mention a personal hat-trick, when his effort from Deen-Conteh's cross was blocked, while Billy Clifford was also unlucky with a powerful strike from the edge of the box, but as George Saville failed to connect with a Baker cross, the referee called time on another disappointing night for the young Blues.
Drummy, though clearly disappointed with the result, was full of praise for his side as he assessed the performance.
'To a man, we were committed to the cause and played some excellent football,' he said. 'In the second half Wolves had one attack and scored. We should have cleared the cross, but that was probably the difference, they had a bit more experience in their side.
'I'm really pleased, I'm not disappointed at all. Conor Clifford was outstanding, Billy Clifford was playing higher up the pitch and created a few chances, while Islam Feruz scored two great goals.
'We've tried to play football and ultimately were undone by a cross we should have dealt with, but we can live with that.
'I'd rather have a team who can play football than one that just sits back and defends, because our job is to try to produce players.'
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mitchell Beeney; Todd Kane (c), Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake, Adam Nditi (Aziz Deen-Conteh 80); Conor Clifford (Rohan Ince 85), George Saville, Billy Clifford; Lewis Baker, Islam Feruz, Patrick Bamford (Lamisha Musonda 75).
Unused substitutes: Ben Killip (GK), Alex Davey.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Wayne Hennessy (Aaron McCarey h/t); Michael Ihiekwe, Ethan Ebanks-Landell, Jamie Tank; Kristian Krostna, Sam Whitall, Jack Price, John Gorman (Tim Jakobsson 68); Zeli Ismail, Liam McAlinden
Unused substitutes: Dominic Iorfa, Dominic Dell, Robbie Parry.