UNDER-21 REPORT: WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 1 CHELSEA 2
A brace for striker Islam Feruz (pictured above) helped Dermot Drummy's side come from behind to take all three league points at Telford. Liam McAlinden had put the hosts ahead inside 20 minutes, finishing smartly past Mitchell Beeney in the Blues goal, before Feruz grabbed an equaliser moments before the break.
The Scotland youth international forward then bagged what proved to be the winning goal midway through the second half, finishing powerfully on the volley having been teed up by Jeremie Boga, although he also missed a late penalty.
Drummy made just one change from the side that started in the Under-21s' last league outing, with Adam Nditi replaced by Alex Kiwomya, who had been missing recently with illness. That forced a slight reshuffle, with captain Nathan Ake moving to left-back and Jeremie Boga deployed in his more familiar central role behind the striker, while Lewis Baker and John Swift made up the midfield trio.
Feruz led the line up front once again, supported from wide by Kiwomya and Izzy Brown, while the rest of the back four was made up of Fankaty Dabo, Alex Davey and Andreas Christensen, with Mitchell Beeney in goal.
The Wolves side featured five players with 2013/14 first team experience, including Kevin Foley, George Elokobi and striker Liam McAlinden.
The hosts started brightly on a difficult pitch at Telford United's The Bucks Head, though it was Drummy's side with the first chance of the game after a few minutes. Swift intercepted a loose pass in the middle of the field and instantly sent Feruz in behind through the middle, though the Scotland Under-21 striker could only poke his left-footed effort wide.
Moments later the net was rippling, as Beeney was beaten from close range by Eusebio Bancessi after Kevin Foley's floated diagonal ball had caught out Christensen, though the visitors were saved by the linesman's raised flag signalling a tight offside decision.
Bancessi was proving a threat down the Wolves right flank, testing Ake with his pace and trickery at every opportunity, and the 18-year-old Guinea forward forced a good low save from Beeney after working some space for himself inside after coming in off the right wing.
Chelsea were finding it difficult to move the ball in their usual fashion on the sticky surface and were soon to have further problems to contend with as Wolves took the lead inside 20 minutes. Sam Whittall fed his striker partner Liam McAlinden through the middle and the Northern Irishman used strength and power to hold off the challenge and finish high beyond Beeney into the back of the net.
Wolves were buoyed by that early goal and Beeney was called into action again moments later to deny the hosts doubling their advantage. Captain Kristian Kostrna fired a fizzing effort from the left side of the box that had the goalkeeper back-pedalling and forced him to tip the ball smartly over the bar.
The young Blues started to settle after that and began to dictate the game more from midfield. Kiwomya (pictured below) advanced promisingly down the right wing and, after beating Foley and keeping the ball in on the touchline, he found Feruz in the centre, though the striker's mistimed shot was comfortably wide in the end.
Baker fired over and Swift had a shot well blocked as the visitors looked for a leveller, while down the other end Davey was forced into some good defending against the advancing goalscorer McAlinden as Wolves continued to pose a threat of their own.
However the Blues did grab their equaliser moments before half-time after a long period of sustained pressure and patience in their build-up play. Brown supplied for Feruz from the left and the striker finished smartly across Jon Flatt in the Wolves goal for his eighth goal of the season.
The action resumed with both sides searching for another goal that would give them maximum league points and Chelsea began the half in the ascendancy. Baker's deflected free-kick fell for Feruz but the striker was unable to trap the ball under his control and the recovering defenders quickly snuffed out the opportunity.
Drummy made an early switch inside 10 minutes of the restart, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Kiwomya in a change that saw Swift shuffled over to the right wing. The midfielder's introduction gave fresh impetus to the visitors, while Boga (pictured below) started to threaten as he skipped past defenders and fashioned opportunities for his side.
It was the Frenchman's spark that provided the assist for Chelsea to take the lead as he rode a few challenges advancing down the right channel and supplied the perfect centre for Feruz, who finished expertly on the volley, high and powerfully, leaving Flatt with no chance.
That goal set the game up for an open finale, with Wolves having to commit numbers forward as they looked to snatch a point, and the Blues eager to find a killer third goal as more space opened up in the hosts' defensive third.
Substitute Ibrahim Keita proved to be a handful after his arrival for the last half hour, firstly supplying a dangerous low cross that just evaded Kostrna, before beating Beeney from close range with a smart low finish. However, having mistimed his header from a cross from the right, the striker was adjudged to have used his hand to control the ball and the referee ruled it out.
The Blues had a chance to wrap things up in the final few minutes of the game after Feruz was felled by Jakobsson in the penalty area and the linesman awarded the visitors a penalty though the striker, searching for a hat-trick, skied his effort from 12 yards comfortably over the bar.
That was the final action of the game as Drummy's side held on to continue an unbeaten record that stretches back to September. Next up for the Under-21s is an Under-21 Premier League Cup clash with Arsenal, to be played at Aldershot's Electrical Services Stadium on Monday 27 January.
Drummy paid tribute to his side's ability to grind out an important win in extremely difficult conditions on a sticky pitch at Telford. Speaking to the official Chelsea website after the game, he said: 'Sometimes you go to places and win playing great football but the pitch tonight was a little bit unplayable really.
'Islam Feruz got a good first goal and then Jeremie Boga has done wonders from the right-hand side to make Islam's second but I thought the commitment to tackle and run and do the other side of the game was very positive tonight. We needed another three points here after a couple of draws so I was really pleased.'
Drummy also spoke about his former goalkeeper Sam Walker, who completed a permanent move to Colchester United earlier in the day after another successful loan spell in League One.
'I'd like to wish Sam all the best. He was in our Youth Cup-winning side and he's been an exemplary young professional for me. He's a very well-mannered lad and Mark Beeney [Academy goalkeeping coach] has done some great work with him. Sometimes you need to take one step back to take two steps forward and I've no doubt Sam can go on to play at a higher level in the future.'
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Andreas Christensen, Alex Davey, Nathan Ake (c); Lewis Baker, Jeremie Boga, John Swift; Alex Kiwomya (Ruben Loftus-Cheek 54), Islam Feruz, Izzy Brown (Isak Ssewankambo 83).
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Dion Conroy, Adam Nditi.
Goals Feruz 41, 68
Wolves Jon Flatt; Matt Doherty (Jordan Cranston 61), Tim Jakobsson, George Elokobi, Kevin Foley; Ethan Ebanks-Landell, Eusebio Bancessi, Kristian Kostrna (c) Robbie Parry (Jim Kellerman 72); Liam McAlinden (Ibrahim Keita 61), Sam Whittall.
Unused subs Scott Dutton, Dominic Iorfa.
Goals McAlinden 18
By Sam Poplett.