UNDER-21 REPORT: CHELSEA 3 WEST HAM UNITED 3
A thrilling league encounter at Aldershot ended with a share of the spoils as Nathan Aké grabbed a stoppage-time equaliser. The young Blues had to come from behind after going 2-0 down inside the first half hour, but Lewis Baker's strike pulled one back just before the interval and John Swift levelled proceedings up midway through the second period.
West Ham looked to have won the contest after Blair Turgott struck a wonderful effort from distance, but Aké's second goal in as many games earned the hosts a valuable point.
Dermot Drummy made three changes from the side that drew 2-2 up at Sunderland in the last league encounter, with Mitchell Beeney returning in goal in place of Brad Collins, Jeremie Boga replacing Ambrose Gnahore and there was a first Under-21 start for Kenneth Omeruo in central defence, alongside Nathan Aké.
Elsewhere in defence Kevin Wright and Fankaty Dabo continued at left-back and right-back respectively, while Lewis Baker partnered Billy Clifford at the base of the midfield. Islam Feruz started up front supported by Alex Kiwomya and John Swift from the flanks.
Chelsea started proceedings on the front foot, with Feruz firing wide inside the opening five minutes, before Swift tested Raphael Spiegel in the Hammers' goal with a powerful effort that the goalkeeper did well to get his body behind and hold on to.
Boga was bright and inventive in the final third, interchanging with Swift and Kiwomya out wide and tricking his way past defenders. However, the Chelsea attacks he spearheaded would consistently break down as the young Blues looked to penetrate the visitors' defensive line.
West Ham, coming into the game top of the Under-21 Premier League and with three successive wins, had their first opening of the match after 15 minutes as an effort sailed over the bar, before Matthias Fanimo fashioned a chance on the break that Omeruo did well to charge down and block.
Clifford had a shot blocked while Baker hit one straight at Spiegel again as Drummy's boys controlled the game without managing to find the incisive breakthrough. Kiwomya then had the best chance of the game so far, forcing a smart save from the Hammers goalkeeper low at his near post after clever work from Baker to find space in the penalty area.
However, it was the visitors who grabbed the opening goal midway through the half as they caught Chelsea on the break. After a quick attack and some neat passing, it was Pelly Ruddock who finished down low and into the far corner past the despairing dive of Beeney to put the league leaders 1-0 ahead.
Chelsea tried to respond in a positive fashion as they sought a quick equaliser, and Clifford fired a shot high over the bar, before West Ham scored again. Another attack with speed caught the young Blues out of position and Dylan Tombides fed in a perfectly weighted ball through for Fanimo, who smashed the ball high and beyond Beeney from 20 yards.
That second goal took the wind out of Chelsea's sails and the visitors could have added a third shortly afterwards as Kieran Sadlier's free kick clipped the outside of the post, with most inside the stadium under the impression it had rippled the inside of the net rather than the side netting. Tombides then went close after Blair Turgott advanced down the left, though the striker's looping effort went just over the bar.
Those warning signs were heeded and the Blues quickly made West Ham pay for their profligacy by finding a way back into the game. A neat move saw the ball shifted left to right from Boga to Swift to Clifford (pictured below), whose driven effort rebounded back off the post into the grateful path of Baker, and the midfielder couldn't miss from close range as he netted his second goal of the season.
That strike brought renewed energy to the Chelsea ranks and Swift ought to have equalised as Feruz's shot was saved by Spiegel, though the England Under-19 international couldn't quite squeeze the ball inside the post from a tight angle practically a yard out.
Turgott then gave a timely reminder that the young Hammers presented a real threat on the counter-attack as he led a charge forward and his eventual shot was deflected just beyond Beeney's near post. The resulting corner was dangerous and flashed right across the face of goal as neither attack nor defence could intervene.
Drummy made a change at the break, replacing Kiwomya with Isaiah Brown on the left flank, and it was the hosts trying to force the issue as the second period began. Swift flashed an effort wide before skipping past Shaw on the right flank, though his cutback evaded any team-mates in Blue and the attack was snuffed out.
Feruz then had a sight at goal after a neat reverse pass from Baker set him clear in some space, but the striker slipped on the wet surface right as he prepared to strike and the ball sliced wide.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek then entered the fray, replacing Boga as the Frenchman secured another hour of football in his comeback from injury. That switch allowed Clifford to move into the more advanced midfield role behind Feruz, and it was the striker again involved as he raced in behind to try to get on to a lofted ball over the top, though Spiegel was quick off his line and cleared the danger.
Clifford headed over from Baker's free kick while, down the other end, a slip by Loftus-Cheek allowed Fanimo the opportunity to advance and feed in Tombides, though Aké did well to cover across and block the striker's effort on goal.
An excellent ball over the top from Clifford found the run of Loftus-Cheek in behind. However, the substitute's first touch was slightly heavy and he could only poke wide when he might have done better. The game ebbed and flowed from end to end in the rain as the hosts opened up looking for an equaliser and the Hammers sought to capitalise in retaliation on the break.
Beeney had to be brave to intervene after a West Ham free kick found its way through the crowded penalty area. The keeper got enough contact on the loose ball and the danger was cleared as advancing attackers lurked.
Swift was having some joy up against Frazer Shaw down the right flank and managed to skip past the full-back again to fashion a chance. Feruz cleverly back-heeled despite heavy pressure inside the six-yard box and the chance fell to Brown, though a wonderful goal-line block kept the visitors ahead.
Danny Whitehead then had an effort from 20 yards nick off a Chelsea defender and fly just past Beeney's post, before Chelsea's constant pressure eventually paid dividends as they found the breakthrough to grab an equaliser. Feruz, who had worked tirelessly in the second period, earned himself some space on the edge of the box with some neat trickery and fired in a low effort that Spiegel couldn't keep hold of. Swift was on hand to prod home the rebound from close range to bag his 4th goal of the season.
That leveller gave the Blues the confidence to push on looking for a winner and Swift again tested Spiegel from range before the visitors pulled off a shock by snatching a third. Turgott found some space and fired in a super strike from 25 yards that flew past Beeney in the Chelsea goal.
It was a fantastic goal fit to win any game, though the hosts were not planning on it being one that secured this contest. Captain Aké's header was turned away by Spiegel before Loftus-Cheek had a golden chance to make it 3-3. He led the counter-attack from deep, feeding Feruz in down the right channel, however the midfielder could only skew his final effort harmlessly wide when presented with the chance 10 yards out.
As the Blues poured forwards searching for another equaliser it was West Ham who could have finished the game off as Tombides ran in behind, however good pressure from Dabo was enough to thwart the chance for the visitors.
That set the game up for a grandstand finish and Chelsea duly responded as they threw numbers up the field. Clifford thundered an effort against the bar from range and Aké was on hand from close range to tap home as the goalkeeper was left stranded on the turf.
It was a goal that brought the breathtaking proceedings to a close and, despite dropping two home points, manager Drummy was pleased with the comeback spirit of his side.
'It was a really exciting game,' he said. 'I thought West Ham did well. We've got to take credit for our never-say-die attitude but eradicate the mistakes. I think Nathan Aké has been outstanding, not only all season but especially tonight, he didn't put a foot wrong and he epitomises the spirit that is required at Chelsea.
'It's hard sometimes for Billy [Clifford] and Lewis [Baker] because they're artistic and they want to get forward. I put them in a kind of holding role tonight to get us out through the thirds but they tend to not hold that position and they've got to have more of a discipline in there if I ask that, but on the flipside we created lots of chances tonight. John Swift played out of position on the right and did really well too.'
'The way we play our football we are open at times and I have to correct that but we've got to say we got back in the game with incredible spirit and I'm sure it was a very entertaining game for people to watch.'
Goalscorer Aké was also understandably satisfied to have grabbed his second goal in two games, after his late strike in Schalke in the UEFA Youth League last week. The defender echoed his manager in praising the team's mentality to come from 0-2 and then 2-3 behind, but stressed his disappointment in conceding some soft goals.
'We were sloppy with the ball when we had possession and conceded three soft goals that you can't let happen so we need to learn from that but I think we fought well in the game,' said the captain.
'We did well to get the goal back at 2-1 and we could build from there. We never give up, our mentality is very strong and we keep going until the end to get the goal back. It was nice to be in the right place at the right time again and it was good for the team because I think we deserved the draw at least.'
Drummy was also pleased to see Omeruo play for the first time at Under-21 level and commented: 'It was nice to see Kenneth involved, we knew he'd blow out but he needed some fitness that you can't get in training and he needs three or four more games before he gets that match fitness.'
Next up for the Under-21s is a trip to Newcastle on December 2.
Chelsea: Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Kenneth Omeruo (Alex Davey 65), Nathan Aké (c), Kevin Wright; Lewis Baker, Billy Clifford, Jeremie Boga (Ruben Loftus-Cheek 57); John Swift, Alex Kiwomya (Isaiah Brown h/t), Islam Feruz.
Unused subs: Mark Beeney, Alex Davey, Ola Aina.
West Ham: Raphael Spiegel; Callum Driver (Amos Nasha 87), Frazer Shaw, Taylor Miles (Moses Makasi 67) Reece Burke; Pelly Ruddock, Blair Turgott, Danny Whitehead, Kieran Sadlier, Matthias Fanimo (Josh Cullen 83), Dylan Tombides.
Unused subs: Sean Maguire, Sam Bowes.