UNDER-21 MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 3 MIDDLESBROUGH 2
Chelsea's Under-21s earned an impressive victory thanks to an Islam Feruz brace and Lewis Baker penalty at Stamford Bridge on Friday night.
Boro had taken the lead, marginally against the run of play just after the half-hour but Chelsea quickly levelled through Feruz and were deserving of a lead early in the second half, which came when Baker converted from the spot after a foul on Adam Nditi.
The visitors were level within five minutes though after a quick turnover and accurate finish, but Chelsea were not to be denied and Feruz fired home a late winner from outside the area to make it seven league games without defeat as we kick-off a busy run of fixtures at Under-21 level.
Dermot Drummy's side had beaten Middlesbrough at the Riverside stadium shortly before Christmas, and were quickly on the front foot looking for a breakthrough in the return fixture.
Inside 10 minutes Lewis Baker had sent a free-kick over the Boro bar before excellent work down the right from Milan Lalkovic allowed Islam Feruz a look at goal, but the forward's shot flew just the wrong side of the far post.
Both sides were impressive in their intentions, trying to play quick, short passing games, but rarely were either doing it well enough to look dangerous.
Chelsea almost had Feruz in again and then Alex Kiwomya brought a smart low save from visiting goalkeeper Connor Ripley after a corner, while Boro's best chance came from a free-kick hit too high, but the opening 30 minutes were largely forgettable.
On the balance of play it was Chelsea who deserved to go in front, but football is rarely fair and so it was that the visitors took the lead thanks to a close-range finish from the unmarked Ryan Brobbel. Mustafa Carayol had advanced down the left after outmuscling his man and crossed low into the box for the midfielder to convert.
Moments later Carayol thought he had doubled the lead after his low drive beat Chelsea stopper Jamal Blackman, but Nditi was there to clear off the line. From there, Chelsea went forward and Feruz found himself in on goal again, in the same position as before.
This time, he set himself well and drove hard into the bottom corner to equalise. The game had come very much to life in an instant.
Five minutes before the break Luke Williams shot just wide as Boro sought to regain their advantage, but both sides would probably be content to go in level.
Chelsea were almost quickly in front through Baker, who won possession high up the pitch before bending his effort wide of goal. The same player curled another free-kick over shortly afterwards following a foul on Saville.
The playmaker was having little luck from his set-pieces outside the box, but he would soon be presented with one inside, when Adam Nditi was brought down for a penalty.
Baker can hit them with either foot, and this time opted for his right, opening himself up before slotting it low to the goalkeeper's left. 2-1 to Chelsea.
The lead wouldn't last though, and within five minutes Boro were level. Alex Davey's pass was cut out inside the Chelsea half and the away side pounced with a quick burst forward and a square pass for Williams to stroke home into the bottom corner.
That was the last opportunity for some time as the game dipped just as it had in the first period, although Alex Davey, subsequently flagged offside, did head just wide from a Baker free-kick.
Saville, Feruz and Williams all earned yellow cards for overenthusiastic tackles and Blackman saved from Curtis Main as the contest slipped into the final 10 minutes, and then Lalkovic beat two men down the left before cutting inside another and shooting inches past the far post. It was the best piece of individual play of the game, and warranted more.
Ripley then used his legs to deny Nditi at close range, with Chelsea suddenly finding an urgency that had been lacking.
It paid off too, with Feruz allowed just enough space to shoot from long range, and although Ripley would have expected to stop it, it was well struck and squirmed past the goalkeeper to give the Blues the lead.
Boro pressed but could not find an equaliser, largely thanks to one superb save in injury time from Blackman, ensuring three home points and a good start to the Chelsea weekend.
Chelsea team: Jamal Blackman; TIka Musonda (sub Danny Pappoe h-t), Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen, Adam Nditi; Lewis Baker, George Saville (c), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (sub Jeremie Boga 60); Milan Lalkovic, Islam Feruz, Alex Kiwomya (sub John Swift 81).
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Dion Conroy.