UNDER-21S REPORT: FULHAM 1 CHELSEA 0
A young Chelsea side was narrowly but deservedly beaten by local rivals Fulham at Craven Cottage on Friday night.
Second-best for much of the night, the Blues fell to a strike early in the second half, which came sandwiched between a flurry of chances for the home side.
Chelsea struggled to create against the more experienced Cottagers, and to make matters worse midfielder Lewis Baker was dismissed two minutes from time for a poor tackle.
The result means a second consecutive defeat for Dermot Drummy's side, who are next in action on Monday, March 11 against Everton.
Chelsea started unconvincingly, three times giving the ball away in dangerous areas and almost allowing Cauley Woodrow an opener. Fortunately the Fulham striker volleyed wide, and shortly afterwards Islam Feruz had the Blues' first effort on target from outside the box.
Jamal Blackman (pictured), impressive on the night, saved low to his left from Alex Smith's free-kick as Fulham maintained their superiority, though their final pass was generally lacking accuracy. Experienced midfielder Simon Davies was as guilty as any of his younger team-mates.
Adam Nditi did well to clear Woodrow's header off the line 25 minutes in, with Chelsea still struggling to keep hold of the ball and advance into the Fulham half, and just five minutes later the same forward hooked over the Chelsea bar from 10 yards. That was his fifth look at goal, and somehow he had not yet found the net.
Brief respite saw Blues full-backs Todd Kane and Nditi combine, the latter crossing deep for the former who fired just off target at the far post. Moments later Kane had another pop, this time on his left foot, but again he shot wide.
The young Chelsea side will have been wanting to tighten up, but three minutes into the second period Davies skewed a golden chance wide of the far post as normal service was resumed.
Superb footwork from Chelsea's Jeremie Boga, often a joy to watch, saw him beat two Fulham challenges before shooting tamely at the Fulham keeper, and that would be the last chance before the hosts took the lead.
Fulham worked it into the area, and Davies did well to finally pick his pass as Lasse Christensen lashed home from close range.
Feruz, who had taken a knock in the first half was replaced with Reece Mitchell up front, while Aziz Deen-Conteh replaced Alex Kiwomya.
The lead was almost doubled before the hour mark when Blackman had to save from Kerim Frei, and then Josh Passley struck the angle of post and bar with Chelsea's defence all at sea.
Christensen struck the bar shortly afterwards with Blackman beaten, and still Chelsea were in the game as it entered its final stages.
Growing desperation to get back into the game developed into frustration, and there were cautions for both Kane and Milan Lalkovic before a rash challenge from Lewis Baker saw him dismissed with two minutes to go.
Blackman had to save once more in injury time with Chelsea stretched and still on the back foot, and then right at the death Eyong Enoh struck the post to bring to an end a disappointing evening for the Blues.
Chelsea: Jamal Blackman; Todd Kane (c), Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen, Adam Nditi; Ruben Loftus-Cheek (sub Dion Conroy 69), Jeremie Boga, Lewis Baker; Alex Kiwomya, Islam Feruz (sub Reece Mitchell 54); Milan Lalkovic (sub Aziz Deen-Conteh 57).
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Daniel Pappoe.