UNDER-21 REPORT: CHELSEA 1 SUNDERLAND 0
The Under-21s won their third game on the spin against Sunderland at Cobham this afternoon. Islam Feruz's goal moments before half time was enough to see off the threat of the young Black Cats, though Chelsea also had Jamal Blackman to thank for the points after the keeper made a good penalty save midway through the second half to preserve their 1-0 lead.
Dermot Drummy made one change to the side that beat Middlesbrough 3-2 at Stamford Bridge last time out, with Nathan Aké replacing the missing Lewis Baker in midfield, alongside Ruben Loftus-Cheek and skipper George Saville.
Alex Kiwomya and Milan Lalkovic continued either side of Feruz in attack, while the back five of Jamal Blackman, Tika Musonda, Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen and Adam Nditi remained in place.
The hosts enjoyed a bright start at a chilly Cobham and could have been ahead after just two minutes. Christensen strode purposefully out of defence and lofted a pass over the top to Kiwomya, whose lobbed effort just didn't quite have enough on it to outwit the onrushing Ben Wilson in the Sunderland goal. At the other end Blackman made a comfortable save from Ryan Noble, however the opening exchanges were controlled by Chelsea.
Saville had a chance fly over the bar after good work down the left by Lalkovic and the overlapping Nditi, before Feruz shot similarly high and wide from a free kick won by Saville, after the midfielder showed strength and skill to burst out from midfield.
Chelsea were largely enjoying control of possession, leaving Sunderland's main weapon to be on the break. One such opportunity was fashioned after a quarter of an hour, though Noble's effort just trickled past Blackman's far post. It was the visiting keeper who remained busiest as the half wore on, saving well from Feruz, Lalkovic and then Nditi, while also having to be smart and quick off his line as Feruz fed Lalkovic in behind.
It was Feruz once again proving to be a handful for the opposition defence, bending a curling effort just beyond the far post after expertly making space for himself in the box, before the deadlock was finally broken moments before the break.
Lalkovic sped away down the right flank, beating a couple of Sunderland defenders before finding Feruz with an inviting ball across the six-yard box. The little striker did the rest, firing home for his eighth Under-21 league goal of the campaign, and his sixth in four since Christmas.
The second period began much as the first had played out, with Wilson saving comfortably from Ake and then low from Saville after a clever turn from the captain on the edge of the box. Feruz then used his pace and quick feet to beat his man in the area but his driven delivery across goal was just behind the lurking Ake.
The visitors then had a golden chance to equalise after a penalty was awarded for a foul on Mandron. Jordan Laidler stepped up but his effort down to Blackman's right was well saved by the goalkeeper to keep the Blues ahead. Noble then flashed a dangerous ball across the face of Blackman's goal as the visitors looked for an equaliser, while Mandron had a header from an inswinging free kick fly over the bar.
Dion Conroy entered the fray with 20 minutes to play, replacing Loftus-Cheek in a move that saw Christensen move forward into midfield, before Connor Hunte replaced Kiwomya shortly afterwards.
It was the schoolboy Hunte who almost grabbed a second right at the death for the Blues, as Saville slid him in on goal after an incisive breakaway, but the winger was denied by a good save from Wilson. However, Feruz's first half goal was to prove enough as Drummy's boys held on for their third win in as many games since beginning their new league campaign.
Chelsea: Jamal Blackman; Tika Musonda, Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen, Adam Nditi; Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Dion Conroy 68), Nathan Ake, George Saville (c); Alex Kiwomya (Connor Hunte 71), Islam Feruz, Milan Lalkovic