UNDER-21 REPORT: CHELSEA 1 ASTON VILLA 2
A young Chelsea Under-21 side was beaten by their NextGen conquerors Aston Villa on a snowy Thursday afternoon at Cobham.
The visitors went in front early with a cool finish from inside the area but Chelsea showed spirit to draw level through schoolboy Connor Hunte (pictured) shortly afterwards, and gradually gained control of the game throughout the first half, creating several chances to go in front.
After the break it was a different story however, with Villa in the ascendancy and Chelsea goalkeeper Jamal Blackman being worked hard to keep his side level. The away side eventually went in front with a close-range header midway through the second half, and it was not until late in injury time that Chelsea found a real opportunity to equalise, when Aziz Deen-Conteh was brought down inside the area for a penalty, Milan Lalkovic then chipping the ball over the bar with the goalkeeper beaten.
With Monday's NextGen defeat still fresh in the memory, and an FA Youth Cup semi-final just around the corner and the opportunity to gel that team against Manchester United at the weekend, Dermot Drummy fielded a largely young and inexperienced side with most of the side which featured in Lake Como rested.
Daniel Pappoe captained the side as the senior figure, while Lalkovic led the line. Musonda brothers Tika, in deep midfield, and Lamisha, on the right wing, both started.
After a quiet opening, the game came to life 10 minutes in when Villa's Josh Barton unleashed a powerful right-footed drive that clipped the top of Jamal Blackman's crossbar on its way over.
The visitors were on top, their side containing more experience, and they duly took the lead after 16 minutes. After Pappoe had made a block inside the Chelsea area, his partner Dion Conroy was unable to clear and Danny Johnson slotted home the loose ball.
Parity was restored seven minutes later, thanks to a driving run from John Swift towards the Villa area, exchanging passes with Isak Ssewankambo before squaring for Hunte to slide home an equaliser.
Hunte almost drove the Blues in front on the half-hour mark, shooting hard and low from the left channel, but just past the far post.
Lalkovic then created two very different chances, first laying off for the oncoming Ssewankambo who brought a fingertip save from Villa goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist, and then Aziz Deen-Conteh volleyed into the ground and over from close range after a pinpoint centre.
Chelsea, after a poor start, had gradually taken control of the game, and could be satisfied at the break having created several clear chances to gain the advantage.
Villa altered their personnel at the break and came out stronger at the beginning of the second period. Johnson delivered a wicked ball across the Chelsea area that split goalkeeper and defence, but no attackers were able to make contact and the scores remained level.
Drummy made two changes on 54 minutes and one of the replacements, Jesse Starkey, was immediately presented with a golden opportunity to give his side the lead. Deen-Conteh squared from the left across the area for the midfielder, but from 10 yards he side-footed too close to Siegrist who saved.
At the other end Blackman twice saved from Villa chances, first with his legs and then from the corner that followed with a fingertipsave to his right.
Lalkovic went down inside the box shortly afterwards but was awarded a yellow card for simulation rather than the penalty he felt he deserved, and almost immediately Villa regained the lead.
An inswinging right-sided free-kick was played to the far post, and centre-back Danny Devine climbed highest to nod down and into the net.
Blackman then had to save low down from Samir Carruthers as Villa sought to kill the game, and it took a sliding challenge from sub Sam Bangura to deny Villa's Alfie Crooks a further opportunity to do so before Courtney Cameron's volley had Blackman at full stretch once more.
Chelsea had been second-best for some time but as the clock ticked over into injury time, Lamisha Musonda had the chance to shoot, but took too long bringing the ball under control and saw his eventual effort blocked.
Then came the penalty, one final chance for a leveller after the advanced Deen-Conteh was felled inside the box. Lalkovic took responsibility, but chipped the ball over the bar with Siegrist committed to his left, condemning the Blues to a fifth straight league defeat at this level.
Chelsea: Blackman; Dabo, Pappoe (c) (sub Bangura 64), Conroy, Deen-Conteh; T Musonda (sub Starkey 54), Ssewankambo, Swift; L Musonda, Lalkovic, Hunte (sub Seremba 54).
Unused sub: Killip.