UNDER 21 REPORT: CHELSEA 0 MANCHESTER CITY 0
The Under 21s opened the new season with a good point against a talented Manchester City side but, in truth, Dermot Drummy and his players will feel they did enough to secure all three.
The Blues started slowly but soon began to get a foothold, with Billy Clifford in particular impressing.
Patrick Bamford went close on a couple of occasions before the break, while Denis Suarez was always a threat for the away side.
The second half was fairly even with a lack of clear-cut opportunities. Clifford looked to have won it when he hit the bar in the closing minutes, although Jamal Blackman made another good stop to prevent City from executing a classic smash and grab right at the death.
Manager Drummy named a strong starting line-up with a blend of youth and experience for our first game of the season in the new, revamped Under 21s league. Blackman started in goal, while Todd Kane skippered the side at right-back. Nathaniel Chalobah, George Saville, Lucas Piazon and Clifford all started, while Bamford was chosen to lead the line.
In what was a frenetic opening to the game, Manchester City were almost in front inside three minutes. Denis Suarez, a young Spanish playmaker, split the Blues defence with a lovely piece of skill, and it took a fantastic Blackman save to deny Jordy Mayfuila who was on to it fastest.
The visitors looked far more composed in the opening exchanges, retaining the ball well and looking dangerous with some slick passing.
Both Saville and Clifford attempted to utilise the threat of Kane down the right-hand side as we looked to impose ourselves on the game, while Lewis Baker almost picked out Bamford with a clever pass from the edge of the penalty area.
We should have taken the lead in the 19th minute when Piazon dispossessed Jeremy Helan, but as the ball ran into the path of Bamford, with only the keeper to beat, his effort was tame and straight at Eirik Johansen.
While we were enjoying more possession, City, managed by the former Sampdoria midfielder Attilio Lombardo, were a constant threat on the break, and the relationship between Suarez and Mayfuila in the final third was proving to be a major concern, particularly for Nathan Ake and Alex Davey in the centre of defence.
It was Bamford who came closest to breaking the deadlock again just before the half-hour mark, forcing a stunning save from Johansen following a neat interchange between Chalobah and Piazon.
The Blues were beginning to take over, and shortly after it was Piazon's turn to be denied, this time by a last-ditch block after some excellent, determined play by Aziz Deen-Conteh down the left-hand side.
With the clock ticking down, Ake made a perfectly timed intervention after a teasing cross from the left by Albert Rusnak, while Saville and Suarez exchanged verbals following a fierce, albeit fair, tackle by the Chelsea midfielder on the Spaniard.
It was a cagey opening to the second spell, with neither side wishing to give anything away.
Saville's tough tackling in the middle of the park was preventing City's attacking midfielders from having any influence on proceedings, and it was Clifford who had the first attempt of the half, firing narrowly wide from outside the box.
Soon after, Blackman made a smart save low down to his left from a powerful Rusnak drive, while it needed an intelligent block from the impressive Clifford to prevent an Alex Henshall free-kick from troubling our keeper.
With the Blues struggling to penetrate City's back-four, Drummy made our first substitution of the night shortly after the hour, replacing Bamford, who had endured a difficult evening, with our recently acquired Belgian, Thorgan Hazard.
The substitute, with almost his first touch, floated a delightful ball into the path of Piazon who had got behind the last defender, but the Brazilian, who had instigated the move initially, was unable to bring the ball under control, allowing it to run through to Johansen.
With his second switch of the game, Drummy introduced Ruben Loftus-Cheek to the midfield in a bid to freshen things up, Chalobah the player making way.
Hazard and Clifford then combined well on the edge of the penalty area as we looked to strike the killer blow, but the substitutes' delivery was turned behind for a corner by George Evans.
With 10 minutes left to play, the manager made our final substitution of the night, introducing the fresh legs and pace of Alex Kiwomya at the expense of Lewis Baker, the midfielder who had worked tirelessly all night.
Clifford appeared to have secured all three points in the closing minutes when he ran on to a clever back-heel by Hazard, but as he lifted the ball over the advancing Johansen, with the whole stadium expecting the net to bulge, it bounced back off the bar and away to safety.
Sensing time was slipping away, the midfielder tried his luck again soon after, this time from distance, but it was a comfortable save for Johansen.
City almost stole it with the last kick of the game, but Blackman ensured a well-deserved point with a good save down to his right from Henshall.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Jamal Blackman; Todd Kane (c), Alex Davey, Nathan Ake, Aziz Deen-Conteh; Nathaniel Chalobah (Ruben Loftus-Cheek 75), George Saville, Billy Clifford; Lewis Baker (Alex Kiwomya 80), Patrick Bamford (Thorgan Hazard 65), Lucas Piazon.
Unused substitutes: Mitchell Beeney, John Swift.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Eirik Johansen; Shay Facey, Kieran Kennedy, Reece Wabara, Jeremy Helan; George Evans, Marco Lopes (Alex Henshall 56); Adam Drury (Emyr Huws 75), Denis Suarez (c), Albert Rusnak; Jordy Mayfuila (Harry Bunn 66).
Unused substitutes: Greg Leigh, Ian Lawlor.