UNDER-21 REPORT: ASTON VILLA 1 CHELSEA 1
A second-half penalty from Milan Lalkovic saw the Blues earn a deserved point against an in-form Aston Villa side at Villa Park.
Alfie Crooks had given the home side the lead midway through the first half when he pounced on a Jamal Blackman punch to fire into an empty net, while both Connor Hunte and John Swift had chances to equalise before the break.
It was a much-improved Chelsea performance after the break, and after winning the penalty himself Lalkovic calmly scored from the spot to draw us level.
Aston Villa had a brilliant chance to win it nine minutes from time when they were awarded a penalty of their own, but Blackman thwarted Daniel Johnson with a great stop low down to his right.
Chelsea manager Dermot Drummy named an unchanged side from the one which beat Sunderland 1-0 a week ago. Daniel Pappoe skippered the side at the heart of the defence alongside Dion Conroy, who was a late substitute in Friday's FA Youth Cup win at Liverpool. Swift, who also played at Anfield, started in midfield, while Hunte, our match-winner at Sunderland, led the line.
The home side enjoyed the majority of possession during the opening stages of the game, and Blackman had to be alert to make a save from Jack Grealish inside three minutes.
Having won their previous three matches - including the corresponding fixture at Cobham less than a fortnight ago - Aston Villa went into the game in a good run of form, and it showed early on as they passed the ball around confidently.
Our first attack of any note saw a Swift header blocked after Hunte and Lalkovic combined to allow Fankaty Dabo to cross, but our creative players were largely struggling to impose themselves on proceedings.
Swift then earned himself the unwanted tag of being the first player to enter the referee's book following a late lunge on Grealish, and moments later he was unfortunate not to get on the end of a wonderful cross from the left by Aziz Deen-Conteh.
Five minutes later, however, the home side took the lead when Blackman's punch landed straight at the feet of Alfie Crooks, and the Villa midfielder made no mistake, firing home to give Gordan Cowans' side the advantage.
Our response to falling behind was positive, and soon after Hunte was thwarted by a decent save from Benji Siegrist after working himself into a yard of space on the left-hand side of the penalty area, but the hosts remained equally dangerous and went close on two occasions through Samir Carruthers.
Right on half-time a fantastic opportunity to restore parity went begging as Swift, who had advanced from deep, arrived in the box to meet Lalkovic's cross, only to steer his shot wide.
Ismail Seremba was introduced to the action at half-time at the expense of Tika Musonda, a move which saw Swift drop into a deeper role and Lamisha Musonda - Tika's brother - switch into a more central position.
Shortly after the restart the home side were appealing for a penalty when Callum Robinson went down inside the penalty area, and what was an ambitious appeal to say the least saw the Villa man correctly booked for simulation.
The start of the second half was dominated by penalty claims, and moments later the Blues were denied what looked like a clear spot-kick when Deen-Conteh was brought down by Janoi Donacien.
The referee, much to the frustration of the Chelsea players, waved our appeals away, but barely a minute later he made up for his error by awarding us a penalty for a foul on Lalkovic.
Having missed from the spot the last time the two sides met, Lalkovic showed great character to dust himself down and demand to take the kick, and this time he wasn't to be denied, calmly dispatching his strike to equalise.
Given the manner in which we'd started the second half the goal was no more than we deserved, but stung by our leveller, Villa looked to restore their lead, and after Blackman had made a smart stop to deny Riccardo Calder, Pappoe - who had been booked moments earlier - made a last-ditch challenge to repel Johnson.
With 16 minutes left to play Drummy made his second substitution of the night, replacing Hunte - who had tired after the break - with Ambrose Gnahore in a bid to freshen up our attack.
With nine minutes to play, though, Villa were presented with a wonderful chance to seal the points when they were awarded a penalty after Pappoe brought down Derrick Williams.
It was probably the correct decision, but what will have troubled Drummy was the fact that Pappoe himself had been fouled in the build-up.
Aston Villa captain Johnson - who scored in the corresponding fixture - was the player entrusted with taking the kick, but as he looked to roll his strike into the bottom corner, Blackman displayed great agility to turn it around the post.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Jamal Blackman; Fankaty Dabo, Daniel Pappoe (c), Dion Conroy, Aziz Deen-Conteh; Tika Musonda (Ismail Seremba h/t), Isak Ssewankambo; Milan Lalkovic, John Swift, Lamisha Musonda; Connor Hunte (Ambrose Gnahore 74).
Unused substitutes: Mark Beeney, Samuel Bangura.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Benji Siegrist; Joshua Webb (Liam Bateman 77), Janoi Donacien, Derrick Williams, Lewis Kinsella; Andras Stieber, Samir Carruthers; Alfie Crooks (Riccardo Calder 64), Daniel Johnson (c), Jack Grealish; Calum Robinson.
Unused substitutes: Bradley Watkins, Jordan Lyden.