UNDER 21S REPORT: CHELSEA 2 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 4
The first match of the new Under-21 Premier League saw plenty of goals and entertainment for the large crowd at Aldershot, even if the result went against the young Blues.
The campaign began with a London derby against Tottenham at the EBB Stadium at The Recreation Ground, which will be the venue for 25 of our Under-21 and Under-19 fixtures in 2013/14, with free admission for all fans ensuring a strong turnout.
Chelsea, with manager Dermot Drummy in the stands serving a touchline suspension, fielded a strong side. Nathaniel Chalobah and captain Nathan Ake were selected as our centre-back pairing and Josh McEachran - fresh from his goalscoring turn in the friendly win over Hendon - started in an advanced midfield role.
Leading the attack was 16-year-old new arrival Isaiah Brown, making his competitive debut following a summer switch from West Bromwich Albion, while Mitchell Beeney was handed the gloves with Jamal Blackman on the first-team's tour of America.
Both sides showed their quality in a thrilling high-tempo encounter. The Blues took the lead through Josh McEachran's penalty, but Spurs equalised before a quick double towards the end of the first half saw the visitors take a 3-1 lead into the break.
Chelsea changed tact at half-time, bringing on an extra forward in Islam Feruz, but injuries to McEachran, Kevin Wright and Jeremie Boga restricted the home team's options to alter the pattern of the game. A goal each in the second half, including one for Brown on his first appearance, saw Tottenham run out 4-2 winners.
A packed crowd at The Rec were made to wait for the opening fixture of the season to kick-off, with the start time delayed by 45 minutes due to Spurs' late arrival.
The visitors' disrupted preparation, however, had no bearing on the early part of the game, and Iago Falque should have given them an early lead after being presented with a golden opportunity, only to smash his shot over the bar.
Brown went closest for the Blues early on, when he forced a good save after being sent clean through by a slide-rule pass by Boga, but even better was to follow from the latter after 17 minutes.
A sensational run from the Frenchman, which saw him ghost past five opponents, culminated in another superb pass, this time for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was crudely brought down by Giancarlo Gallifuoco before getting a chance to beat the keeper. McEachran stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick and sent Jordan Archer the wrong way to give us a deserved lead.
Spurs responded well, with Falque rattling the crossbar at the halfway stage of the opening period, and it was a case of third time lucky after 30 minutes when Harry Kane teed up the Spaniard to finish from close range.
The Blues suffered an injury blow soon after when McEachran, who was struggling after a robust challenge early on, eventually succumbed to a knock to his ankle; Lewis Baker was the man to come on in the England Under-21 ace's place.
The first half was to come to a disappointing conclusion, however, as Spurs netted twice in quick succession. Falque helped himself to his second of the game shortly after John Swift was denied at the other end by Archer. Kane then burst clear to drill a low finish past Beeney, bringing an end to an action-packed opening 45 minutes.
There was a half-time reshuffle for Chelsea as we went in search of goals, with Feruz coming on in place of John Swift. That saw Baker drop back alongside Loftus-Cheek in midfield, as Boga moved into the middle and the oncoming substitute lined up on the left wing.
Those changes saw us pose an instant threat on the break, with Ryan Fredericks having to intervene to prevent Alex Kiwomya's square ball finding Brown with a free effort on goal.
With both sides struggling to establish their rhythm, it was Tottenham who next launched a counter-attack, but Beeney dealt comfortably with Tom Carroll's deflected effort from outside the box. That warning wasn't heeded, though, and shortly after Spurs grabbed a fourth goal. Kane found space in the area and when his low shot came back off the post, Coulthirst was in the right place to convert past a helpless Beeney.
Chelsea responded instantly through Feruz, who netted after getting on the end of Baker's clever pass, but the linesman's flag was raised for offside. Undeterred, Baker continued to drive forward from midfield and skipper Ake began to make a few forays out of defence, as we continued to push for a way back into the match.
Another injury then saw the Blues forced to use their final substitution, as left-back Kevin Wright went off holding his knee to be replaced by Isak Ssewankambo. That change seemed to liven the home side up a bit, as Brown won a corner with a powerful run down the left, and then Boga thought he was through on goal after a one-two with Feruz, but was ruled offside.
The visitors responded with Kevin Stewart, but after a good run his strong shot was always rising over the bar. That was followed by a better attempt from Kane, but Beeney was equal to it and smothered the rebound bravely under pressure.
There was some late consolation for Chelsea, though, in the form of a debut goal from Brown. Ake carried the ball into the Spurs half and dinked a pass in behind his opposing defenders, allowing the new boy to finish smartly through the keeper's legs.
That wasn't the end of the drama either, as Stewart received his second booking and thus a red card with two minutes of normal time remaining, following a heavy challenge on Brown. Both sides ended up finishing the match with 10 men, as Boga had to be helped off the field with an injury in the last minute of added time.
Chelsea : Beeney; Christensen, Chalobah, Ake (c), Wright (Ssewankambo 72); Swift (Feruz 45), Loftus-Cheek, McEachran (Baker 34); Kiwomya, Brown, Boga.
Unused subs: Killip, Davey
Tottenham: Archer (c); Fredericks, Ball, Stewart (Lameiras 68), A McQueen (Ward 74); Bentaleb, Carroll, Gallifuoco; Coulthirst (D McQueen 77), Falque, Kane
Unused subs: Miles, McEneff