UNDER-19S REPORT: CHELSEA 0 AJAX 0
Chelsea's Under-19s will need a win in Amsterdam to guarantee progression into the knockout rounds of the NextGen Series, after a goalless draw against Ajax at Aldershot.
Dermot Drummy's side knew going into this encounter they would need to get the better of the Dutch side over two legs, and after a fitful 90 minutes played in sub-zero conditions, we are no closer to a conclusion in the group, with CSKA Moscow already qualified, and the return leg of this fixture to come after Christmas.
Both sides had chances on the night, with Ajax shading the first half and Chelsea the second, but in the end neither side did enough to break the deadlock, though a clean sheet will be well-received back at Cobham.
Ajax had the game's first chance when forward Queensy Menig raced through and beat Chelsea goalkeeper Jamal Blackman to the ball, but his touch was too heavy and he could only steer it out for a goal kick.
Another direct pass saw Blackman quicker from his line at the second time of asking to claim, and Islam Feruz shot wide at the other end before an Ajax attack down their right brought a golden headed opportunity, though Djavan Lorenzo Anderson sent his effort too high.
Blackman was alert again to deny advanced right-back Kenny Tete, with the visitors undeniably the more dangerous side in the opening exchanges.
Nathan Ake, playing left-back, shot high and Lewis Baker curled a free-kick straight at the keeper as the Blues grew more competitive, though Ajax again went close from a well-worked corner as Daniel Pappoe bravely blocked a close-range shot to keep the scores level.
Shortly before half-time Lesley De Sa, a livewire on the right wing, burst through and brought another save from Blackman at his near post, but there would be no goal before the break.
It was Chelsea quicker out of the blocks in the second period, with Jeremie Boga denied after finding space inside the box, and then Feruz almost dispossessed the Ajax keeper, but still nothing to break the deadlock.
Ajax's Lucas Qvistorff Andersen should have done better after Pappoe presented him the ball deep in Chelsea territory, but he chipped over, and De Sa sliced wide from 12 yards with perhaps the game's best chance.
Both sides were going for the win, which for Ajax would have guaranteed a spot in the next phase, and Baker almost brought it for the Blues after a decent move saw him get into the box on the right and fire hard across goal, the keeper saving well and pushing it out of the reach of Feruz following in.
As the minutes ticked away, tiredness and fatigue, perhaps as a result of the cold weather, began to creep in and Chelsea grew wasteful in possession, twice gifting Ajax chances that were not taken.
The game's final chances fell to Feruz, whose free-kick was too straight and saved by the keeper, before he drew a near-post save with a fierce low drive, and then Boga, who dragged wide in injury time.
So it all now hinges on the final game in Amsterdam, the date for which is not yet known. Stay posted to the official Chelsea website for news.
Chelsea: Jamal Blackman; Fankaty Dabo, Daniel Pappoe (sub Dion Conroy 64), Alex Davey, Nathan Ake (c); Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andreas Christensen, Jeremie Boga; Reece Mitchell (sub Connor Hunte h-t), Islam Feruz, Lewis Baker (sub Charlie Colkett 76).
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Kevin Wright, Jordan Houghton, John Swift.
Photo courtesy of Mark Sandom