Oxford United 1 Chelsea 1
Mateja Kezman found the net for the first time wearing a Chelsea shirt, his second-half strike levelling up the scores in our opening pre-season friendly after home side Oxford had taken the lead just before half-time.
To make the scoresheet was no more than the summer signing from PSV deserved. He had struck the woodwork twice earlier in the game and his sharp all-round showing marked him out as Chelsea’s most threatening player on the day.
Kezman was one of three new faces to make José Mourinho’s first Chelsea selection, 19 year-old Steven Watt given his chance at centre-back with Alexei Smertin debuting just ahead at the back of the midfield.
The Russian international was another to impress on his first sighting since returning from Portsmouth. He looked every inch an experienced campaigner and at times showed some useful penetrating passing.
Mourinho had stated before the game that this would be more a training session with new opposition than a full-blown game and it certainly had that feeling during a first-half of gentle midfield passing with few challenges or fouls.
It took Chelsea until the 17th minute to make serious in-roads into the bottom division side’s defence. Gudjohnsen, Cole and Gérémi were involved but after a Cole back-heel into space, Gérémi took too long to cross from the left and the danger passed.
Kezman’s first strike against the bar was the next action, his shot a sharp reaction when the ball ricochet off a defender although he did less well a couple of minutes later, lofting tamely over after Joe Cole’s ball in was not properly cleared.
A good spell for Chelsea continued when Kezman sent Gérémi away down the left and his well-flighted cross found Gudjohnsen who unfortunately nodded a few inches wide.
As the half-hour approached Kezman continued the pressure with a low, deflected drive that Oxford keeper Tardif saved and then Babayaro attempted a long-range version of Gazza’s famous Euro ’96 goal but was off target.
Joe Cole, playing at the front of a midfield diamond, was seeing plenty of the ball and he got in on the shooting game with an angled effort from the left that was saved but then Oxford took the lead.
It came four minutes before the break and was rather a shock to a Chelsea defence that had been put under minimal pressure. Watt had looked comfortable and assured in the middle but when ex-Chelsea reserve Robert Wolleaston (nowadays sporting a marvellous afro hairdo) crossed, the youngster’s clearing header was not the best.
It fell to former Watford man Tommy Mooney in plenty of space and his well-struck shot cannoned off Carlo Cudicini and inside the near-post.
Gudjohnsen tried to make amends instantly but drifted across the area before firing wide and then when Kezman won a lost cause and switched flanks with a superb pass, Gérémi was again hampered by being a right-footer on the left and his eventual shot was also off-target.
Mourinho brought on his fellow countryman Filipe Oliveira at half-time in place of Cole as the main attacking midfielder but it was Smertin who found himself in the box early on, tricking past a couple of tackles before his eventual shot was smothered.
Oxford saw more of the ball in the minutes after the break than at any other time with tall striker Julian Alsop almost prodding in at the near-post and Glen Johnson having to clear a headed corner off the line.
Before that though Kezman hit the woodwork for a second time, a post in the way of his deflected shot while Smertin’s long-ranger brought a sprawling save from the keeper.
Kezman’s equaliser eventually arrived in the 66th minute and capped what had been early signs of an understanding behind the Serbian international and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
It was Gérémi who made the initial opening with a fine floated pass which Kezman, in behind the defence, knocked sideways to Gudjohnsen. In a position for a shot himself, Gudjohnsen instead returned the pass and his partner finished confidently.
Cudicini was called into rare action 20 minutes from time, tipping over Michael Alexis’ speculative effort but that apart, the closing stages were most notable for two more new players receiving first team action - Craig Rocastle coming on for Smertin and Filipe Morais a late replacement for Gérémi.
The introduction of Morais, brought up in south-east England but of Portuguese descent, seemed a fitting end to the start of the Mourinho era at Chelsea.