UNDER-21 REPORT: CHELSEA 4 CRYSTAL PALACE 1
Marko Marin was one of the scorers as our Under-21 side won two games on the spin for the first time this season.
The other Chelsea scorers were Todd Kane and Patrick Bamford in the first half, and Lewis Baker late on with the help of a goalkeeping error.
Marin was making his second appearance as one of the permitted over-age players for the Under-21s, and it was a much more influential showing than his 45 minutes against Liverpool in September when the 23-year-old was returning from injury.
It was he who laid on Kane's opener before Palace, who matched Chelsea for chances before the interval, levelled the score soon after. Marin belied his height to head his side back in front and Bamford, a lively performer throughout, netted from distance.
There were less chances after the break but more Chelsea control and Baker putting the icing on a thoroughly deserved victory.
There were three changes to the side that won away at Man City last weekend. Nathan Ake, Conor Clifford and Islam Feruz are away on international duty so Rohan Ince moved into central defence and George Saville came into midfield.
Two players with first team experience were drafted in, Lucas Piazon playing wide on the left and Marin given the no. 10 role behind centre-forward Bamford .
There was early Chelsea promise with some quick, short passing play between Piazon and Marin but the first shot came from Palace's Jason Banton, capitalising on a slip by Ince as he tried to deal with a kick-out from Blackman. The Blues survived that moment and on 14 minutes Marin showed good touch inside the Palace area to make a shooting chance for Billy Clifford, drilled in low with the keeper getting down to block. The ball was momentarily loose and Bamford and a defender both slid in, the ball going over the bar as a result.
Around about the 20-minute mark there were a couple of warning shots for Chelsea - Bayan Fenwick wastefully planting a shot wide after the Blues had been opened up by a swift counter-attack. Palace then had the ball in the net after another break but the offside flag came to our rescue.
On 24 minutes Palace's speed on the counter would pay off but not before they went behind two minutes earlier. Marin had moved out to the left wing on a couple of occasions and now he made himself the chance to cross low to where Todd Kane had advanced from right-back to tap home from close range.
Palace soon sprang forward and Fenwick opted to ignore a team-mate in a very good central position and instead thumped a diagonal shot across Blackman against the far post. Banton still had much to do when the ball came his way but he levelled the scores at 1-1.
It was a reversal of expected roles that put Chelsea back ahead on 29 minutes, Bamford on the left of the area beating his markers and teeing up a header that Marin snapped up with relish from five yards out.
Palace could have once again hit back quickly but a lob went wide before Bamford drew a save from the visitors' keeper with a firm strike. As in the game at Selhurst Park in September, this was good, end-to-end entertainment.
The goal of the night came from Bamford on 34 minutes, the 19-year-old finding the bottom corner with a 25-yard striker having stung the keeper's hands shortly before. Dermot Drummy's side were 3-1 ahead.
The Palace threat was declining although an Ince mistake by the touchline allowed Ibra Sekajja to charge goalwards, thankfully to no end result. At the other end, Lewis Baker lined up a shot shortly before the break which was touched wide.
The Blues dominated possession at the start of the second period. Clifford had a side-footed shot blocked by a defender and Saville, who scored both our goals in the 2-2 draw at Selhurst Park, fired wide from outside the box.
It took until 59 minutes to go close to adding to the score, Bamford rising like a true centre-forward but heading onto the roof of the net after Kane had crossed with pace.
All was going smoothly but Drummy was forced to make a change after left-back Aziz Deen-Conteh, never afraid throughout to run at the opposition, was chopped down in the Palace half. He couldn't recover from the foul and so Alex Davey came on as centre-back with Andreas Christensen moving to full-back.
There was a rare Palace second-half shot when Banton fired a yard over and Saville picked up a booking for a late tackle but Chelsea continued to head comfortably towards victory. It did however need Blackman to be sharp when O'Keefe smashed a low free-kick on target.
Chelsea's superiority was finally rewarded with nine minutes left ofthe clock. Lewis Baker was allowed time to line up a shot from the edge of the box but Palace keeper Lewis Price appeared to have smothered it. That was until the ball appeared from underneath him a gentle rolled over the line.
'It was a pleasing performance because Palace are a tough side and we had to fight for the right to play because they are good at pressing us,' said Drummy.
'Once the game opened up we got some very good goals and Patrick Bamford showed some great movement up front which allowed Marko Marin to play as a No. 10, and that worked quite well.
'The second half it was a case of making sure we didn't give a goal away. Jamal Blackman made a great save but our midfield were excellent and mature second-half and the defence that was bit shaky first-half grew in confidence.
'Marin was electric and it was great for him to get 90 minutes. Lucas Piazon worked hard and Lewis Baker is putting in some very good, steady performances. We were also able to give Reece Mitchell a debut.'
Chelsea Jamal Blackman, Todd Kane (c), Rohan Ince, Andreas Christensen, Aziz Deen-Conteh (Alex Davey 63); Billy Clifford, Marko Marin, George Saville (John Swift 89); Lewis Baker, Patrick Bamford (Reece Mitchell 87), Lucas Piazon.
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Lamisha Musonda.
Palace Lewis Price; Alex Wynter, Danny Gabbidon, Quade Taylor, Matthew Parsons (Hiram Boateng 39); Stuart O'Keefe, Kadell Daniel; Bayan Fenwick (Reise Allassani 67), Kwesi Appiah, Jason Banton; Ibra Sekajja.