UNDER-21 REPORT: NEWCASTLE UNITED 1 CHELSEA 1
A first-half equaliser from Jeremie Boga ensured the Chelsea Under-21 team took a point back home from our trip to Newcastle, cancelling out striker Adam Campbell's opener inside a quarter of an hour.
However, despite second-half pressure from the visitors at St James' Park, Dermot Drummy's side couldn't find a winner and ultimately had to settle for a share of the league points.
Drummy made three changes from the side that drew 3-3 with West Ham at Aldershot in the last league outing for the Under-21s, with Jamal Blackman replacing Mitchell Beeney in goal, Andreas Christensen returning to centre-back in place of Kenneth Omeruo and Isaiah Brown returning to the starting line-up as Billy Clifford dropped out.
Captain Nathan Ake partnered Christensen in defence, with Fankaty Dabo and Kevin Wright supporting from right-back and left-back respectively, while Lewis Baker, John Swift and Boga made up the midfield trio. Islam Feruz led the line up front, with Alex Kiwomya and Brown providing assistance from the flanks.
Newcastle fielded seven starters with first team football experience this season, totalling 24 appearances, with Gabriel Obertan, Sammy Ameobi, Gael Bigirimana and Sylvain Marveaux among them.
The visitors settled quickly inside the opening ten minutes, moving the ball well from defence through the midfield and into the likes of Swift, Brown and Kiwomya in the final third. Brown had the game's first chance, having been supplied out on the left by Swift, but sliced harmlessly wide after cutting inside the defender, before Boga headed clear the first corner of the match as Newcastle responded.
Feruz was then handed a sight of goal after a mistake at the back from Bigirimana. However, Curtis Good was quick and alert in his response, charging down the striker and blocking his well-struck effort on goal. The resultant corner was delivered into a dangerous area and, following an aerial scramble, the hosts required a clearance off the line to keep the early scores level.
The deadlock was broken inside 15 minutes, however, and it was Newcastle who grabbed the advantage, somewhat against the run of the early play. Having fashioned their first neat move of the game, shifting the ball quickly on the edge of the Chelsea box, Campbell made no mistake from 15 yards, toe-poking beyond Blackman into the bottom corner.
That early advantage buoyed the young Magpies and they went on to enjoy a spell of control as Chelsea took time to recover from the blow. Obertan used his trickery and burst of pace over the first few yards to beat Wright down the right flank and deliver a high ball to the back post, though Ameobi could only head over under pressure in the air.
Brown then worked an opportunity for himself down the left, beating a couple of defenders to find some space coming into the penalty area at a narrow angle from the flank. However, with Feruz holding his run and positioned well, Brown opted to go alone and was denied by a good stop by the onrushing Jak Alnwick in the Newcastle goal.
The young Blues were struggling to regain a foothold in the game, with the Newcastle midfield trio of Marveaux, Brandon Miele and Bigirimana enjoying plenty of possession in the middle of the field, and various opportunities for counter-attacks on the break disintegrated before they had really been initiated by the visitors.
Feruz was presented with a chance as confusion between defenders and goalkeeper allowed Brown to tee up the striker, but with Alnwick poorly positioned after the mix-up, Feruz's powerful effort lacked accuracy and flew wide into the Gallowgate end.
At the other end, Christensen had to be alert as Campbell attempted to latch on to a good ball forward inside the right channel, and the Danish Under-21 international did well to track the forward and block behind for a corner, from which the ball evaded almost everybody in arriving at the far post, though Paul Dummett couldn't connect with any real conviction. Blackman was then forced into a good save down low to his right as Ameobi stayed onside and struck a decent effort towards the bottom corner.
Alnwick then denied Brown as the game opened up and the action swung from end to end, before Baker's excellent arrowing effort from 25 yards was tipped over by the home goalkeeper for a corner. That pressure was a prelude to a Chelsea equaliser that came five minutes before the interval.
Christensen pushed forward from the back and his enterprising foray into the Newcastle penalty area caused problems, with the loose ball falling to Boga on the edge of the box. The young Frenchman was quickly on to the opportunity and finished expertly, high and beyond Alnwick, to level the scores and bag his first Under-21 goal of the season.
It was a reward at the end of a first half in which the visitors had competed strongly with a far more experienced side, and Boga could have grabbed a second moments before the break after an exciting move involving Kiwomya and Feruz, though he fired the chance wide.
Newcastle started the second period very brightly and could have been back ahead inside the opening minute as Marveaux found himself in behind the Blues defence and bearing down on goal, though Blackman was quick off his line and spread himself well to deny the 27-year-old Frenchman, with Wright equally alert to clear the loose ball.
That chance was one of the rare openings in the first quarter of an hour of the second half, as Chelsea were forced to build up their attacking play patiently from the back, working the ball from side to side waiting for the opportunity, but failing to break through the hosts' rearguard.
Swift had a chance from a free-kick, though hit his effort too central and Alnwick gathered comfortably, before Brown bent a shot narrowly over from just outside the box. Down the other end, Christensen blocked well from Bigirimana's strike as both sides looked for a second goal that could win the game.
Campbell and Swift both then had harmless shots wide as the visitors began to assert their authority on the game though, despite the threat of Boga, Swift and Brown breaking forwards, clear-cut chances on goal were still few and far between.
Bigirimana fashioned one such opening, finding Campbell with an excellent ball forward, though a combination of strong defending from the centre-backs Christensen and Ake nullified the threat and saw the ball behind for a corner, from which Good forced a routine save from Blackman.
Brown and Baker then combined down the left to work some space for a delivery, though neither the lurking Feruz nor Boga could turn the low centre from Baker towards goal. Yet it was Chelsea pushing forward for a late winner as the match entered the final quarter of an hour, with Alnwick having to be speedy off his line and brave to deny Kiwomya after the winger benefited from a fortunate break off the defender as he moved towards goal.
With the final whistle looming it was the visitors pushing forward and looking most likely to snatch a winning goal, though Feruz's decision to shoot rather than use supporting options was bemoaned as his shot once again failed to hit the target.
Baker's exquisite ball through for Kiwomya on the right flank allowed the wideman a chance to deliver, though once again a low centre across goal evaded the attackers in the area, and it was the hosts who were to go closest in the final few minutes of the game.
Substitute Rolando Aarons found Campbell's clever run off the defenders and the striker was in the clear, though he couldn't add to his first-half opener as he screwed his final effort wide of the near post. That was to prove to be the game's final opportunity as both sides had to settle for a point.
Next up for the Under-21 side is a trip to Cardiff City in the inaugural Under-21 Cup this Friday, December 6, a game that can be seen live on Chelsea TV.
There were mixed feelings for manager Drummy after a game in which his side had chances to grab all three points, despite playing against a side with far more first team experience among their ranks.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: 'They put out six first team players and we had a team of Under-19s, plus Jamal Blackman, so you have to be pleased with the effort, work-rate and concentration from our boys. If we'd have taken our chances at the end we would have won the game.
'In terms of experience, these boys have played against the next level today and we had to be mentally concentrated off the ball, which is something we've been working on, so I was really pleased with that.
'We don't worry about going behind in games. We believe in the way we play, but you have to be organised off the ball as well and that was most pleasing today. We probably restricted them to three or four chances all game and we've had a number of chances ourselves in the second half.
'We played some great attacking football and controlled the game in periods, and when we didn't control it we were organised in our positions, so I'm really pleased with the experience.'
Chelsea (4-3-3): Jamal Blackman; Fankaty Dabo, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake (c), Kevin Wright; Lewis Baker, John Swift, Jeremie Boga; Alex Kiwomya, Isaiah Brown, Islam Feruz.
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Alex Davey, Adam Nditi, Isak Ssewankambo, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Newcastle: Jak Alnwick; Lubomir Satka, Massadio Haidara (Macauley Gillesphey 82), Gael Bigirimana, Curtis Good, Paul Dummett, Gabriel Obertan (c), Brandon Miele, Adam Campbell, Sylvain Marveaux (Rolando Aarons 73), Sammy Ameobi (Tom Heardman 82).
Unused subs: Jonathan Mitchell, James Morgan.