UNDER-21 REPORT: SUNDERLAND 0 CHELSEA 1
Chelsea Under-21s matched the first team by completing a league double over Sunderland on Monday afternoon, a goal from Connor Hunte in the first half enough for victory.
The game was in very blustery conditions at Sunderland's academy near the north-east coast, and Dermot Drummy's side benefitted by playing a passing game on a good surface. Although Sunderland did mount pressure at the start of each half and near the end of the match, they came up against organised and solid oppositon and had few genuine opportunities.
Many of this season's regulars in the Under-21s will be in action in the FA Youth Cup on Friday at Anfield so were not involved today.
The side was unchanged from last week's home defeat by Aston Villa so there was a third Under-21 start for Isak Ssewankambo in midfield and fourth start of the season for Lamisha Musonda and second start for schoolboy Hunte on the flanks.
The more experienced Milan Lalkovic led the attack, with Daniel Pappoe and Aziz Deen-Conteh in defence and Jamal Blackman in goal also players beyond Youth Cup age. Academy goalkeeper coach Mark Beeney was on the bench.
The Sunderland side contained former Chelsea Academy player Billy Knott and two, Jordan Laidler and Mikael Mandron, who were on the bench for their first team at Stamford Bridge yesterday.
Chelsea had the wind to our advantage at the start but it was Sunderland who began the steadier and the first chance was theirs, Ryan Noble hooking a volley over from close range. Lamisha Musonda for Chelsea took a free-kick from out wide, won by a good break forward by Aziz Deen-Conteh, but the wind took it into the arms of the keeper.
Just past the quarter of an hour mark came the first chance for Chelsea. John Swift, who had already pressed the Sunderland backline well early in the game, won the ball in their half and slipped a pass wide for Lalkovic. His shot was across goal and wide of the far post.
Midway through the half, the home side nearly found a way through with a planned free-kick routine but Noble shot straight at Blackman.
Chelsea were steadily imposing our passing game on Sunderland, with Lalkovic causing Sunderland problems when he moved out wide. The breakthrough however was aided by a mistake by the home team's keeper.
Swift turned and advanced and with a fine diagonal pass found Hunte in space to the left of the goal. The winger's shot was firm towards the near post but on most occasions it would have been saved. This time Joel Dixon allowed it through. The game's only goal had come with 28 minutes played.
Just before the interval Deen-Conteh was back to block a shot from Martin Smith when Sunderland had left Chelsea stretched after a quick break. Sunderland called for a handball and penalty but the ref was not interested.
As in the first-half, the home team began on the front foot. Blackman had to use his long reach to punch clear a Knott free-kick and then from a corner Sunderland centre-back Scott Harrison should have done better than head over the bar.
The wind was now in Sunderland's favour and although Lalkovic almost wiggled his way through from a wide position, the home side continued to have the better of the opening stages of this half.
Chelsea again grew stronger however, and Lamisha Musonda cut inside and drilled a shot just wide before Lalkovic passed forward to Hunte, who this time had his shot saved by the keeper. There was just over an hour gone.
Sunderland allowed Lamisha Musonda to square the ball across the face of their goal but for the most part the two defences did well as the game drew to its conclusion. The commanding figure of Danny Pappoe at the back for Chelsea was prominent on a couple of occasions.
Lalkovic had a golden chance to make the three points safe with two minutes left on the clock when Hunte played a ball through the middle but one-on-one with the keeper, the Slovakian shot wide.
There was one final chance for Sunderland when a high ball into the area was met by the head of tall striker Mandron but it looped over the bar.
Chances had been few but it was a victory Chelsea deserved and a first Under-21 league win since the home victory over Sunderland in February.
'The pitch was the best we played on for a long time and we played with a lot of thought,' said Drummy.
'We didn't just kick into space, we played into runs and Milan Lalkovic, Connor Hunte and Lamisha Musonda are all very quick players. Our midfield three blocked and defended well in shape and we have worked on that and our defence was a unit.
'I don't think we have deserved to lose some recent games but we have fielded sides who haven't played together before. Today the attitude was spot on.
'It was an unchanged side this time and you have to work on the dynamics of the team. It is hard in development to keep bringing in different players. I was really pleased with Hunte who is an Under-16 and showed discipline and work ethic. Other boys in the team are being released but still showed a positive attitude and work ethic and you have to be pleased with that.'
Chelsea: Jamal Blackman; Fankaty Dabo, Danny Pappoe (c), Dion Conroy, Aziz Deen-Conteh; Tika Musonda, Isak Ssewankambo (Jesse Starkey 63); John Swift; Lamisha Musonda, Milan Lalkovic, Connor Hunte.
Unused subs: Mark Beeney, Sam Bangura, Ismail Seremba.
Sunderland: Joel Dixon; Liam Marrs, Scott Harrison, Tom McNamee, David Ferguson; Martin Smith, Billy Knott, Jordan Laidler, Adam Mitchell (Ross Holland 76); Mikael Mandron; Ryan Noble.
Unused subs: Ethan Robson, Ben Wilson, Liam Agnew, Tom Beading.