Eden Hazard completed 75 minutes for our development squad in the latest step of his comeback but the young Blues were ultimately beaten at Aldershot in Premier League 2.
An own goal from Joseph Colley followed by second-half strikes from Beni Baningime and Oumar Niasse did the damage to the hosts, who suffered their first defeat of the campaign at the hands of last season’s PL2 champions.
Hazard was the headline name as the team sheets were handed in at Aldershot, with the Belgian lining up in the number 10 position as he continues his ongoing recovery from an ankle injury. The Blues started with a 4-diamond-2 shape and were fronted in attack by Dujon Sterling and Miro Muheim in the absence of the injured Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Jordan Houghton was another utilising the game for match minutes as he bids for full fitness and the 21-year-old started in midfield alongside Luke McCormick and Isaac Christie-Davies. Edwards used a back four for the first time in the league this season with Joseph Colley partnering Ethan Ampadu in central defence, the latter having been selected for the senior Wales squad earlier in the day. Reece James and Josh Grant started at right-back and left-back respectively, with Marcin Bulka continuing in goal.
The Blues had picked up four points from their opening two PL2 matches and were looking to continue their positive start to the new campaign against last term’s league winners. Everton included Niasse in their starting team and the 27-year-old took aim with the evening’s first attempt, a low drive gathered comfortably by Bulka.
Ampadu cleared the box well following intricate play through the middle by the visitors before a neat flick from Hazard set Sterling away down the right channel. The ball was eventually delivered in low from the left by Grant but put into touch by the covering defender.
Everton took the lead with 18 minutes on the clock and the goal had a touch of fortune as well as technique to it. Liam Walsh and Harry Charsley combined well down the right before the Toffees skipper delivered a wicked cross that asked a difficult question of the backtracking Colley. The Swedish defender knew he had to intervene as the ball headed across the six-yard box but his attempted clearance sliced horribly past Bulka and nestled into the bottom corner.
Hazard’s influence grew as the half progressed and an exchange in midfield with Christie-Davies led to our number 10 dinking the ball invitingly towards Muheim. The Switzerland youth international looked to pounce but was eased out cleverly at the back post.
Sterling then went close with a header but his stretching effort lacked the accuracy to test Louis Gray in the away goal before the Blues were denied a clear penalty 10 minutes before the break. Hazard picked up the ball on the half-turn and spun away from Baningime before jinking into the box. He was beyond the last defender and bearing down on goal when Morgan Feeney evidently stepped across his run and brought him to the ground but the referee ruled no foul.
Yet the Blues didn’t let that take the wind out of their sails and pushed strongly for a leveller before the break. Muheim’s curling free-kick was pushed away by the diving Gray before Christie-Davies clipped the crossbar, his slight touch on to James’s cross looping over the goalkeeper but not dropping soon enough to beat him.
Gray’s most impressive stop came in the final minute of the half as Ampadu rose highest to meet a corner from the left. The 16-year-old connected perfectly with his header and powered it down but the keeper managed to shovel the ball away to safety with an instinctive save.
There was reason to be optimistic for Edwards and his players, who restarted in similar fashion to how they had ended the first half. Hazard continued to tease and torment, shuffling away from defenders before cutting the ball back for Ampadu, who curled a shot just over. Colley then fired off-target from a right-sided corner before David Unsworth’s side doubled their advantage. They worked the ball from left to right on the edge of the Blues box before Baningime placed a low drive beyond the reach of Bulka into the bottom left corner.
The second goal promoted Everton to sit deeper and resulted in the hosts enjoying the lion’s share of possession for the final half-hour. Their challenge was to use the ball to break through a resilient rearguard and Hazard went close again in his final action of the night, a typical shimmying run down the left flank fashioning a sight at goal. Opening his body up, he looked to nestle the ball into the far corner but Gray was equal to his attempt.
Jacob Maddox swiftly replaced the Belgian, whose runout had been another key step in his recovery towards full fitness. Yet there was still the small matter of salvaging a point in the game and Sterling might have sparked a late fightback had his front-post header flown a few metres the other side of the upright.
McCormick blasted over as we poured forward and were eventually caught out on the break as Niasse added a third, slamming the ball high into the net on the rebound after Bulka had initially made a good save to deny him. Substitute Nathan Broadhead almost added a fourth in added time when his curling effort thumped the post as our youngsters endured a difficult and disappointing evening. They return to PL2 action after the international break with a home game against Sunderland on Saturday 9 September.
Chelsea (4-diamond-2) Marcin Bulka; Reece James, Joseph Colley, Ethan Ampadu, Josh Grant; Jordan Houghton (c) (Ruben Sammut 61), Luke McCormick, Isaac Christie-Davies, Eden Hazard (Jacob Maddox 74); Dujon Sterling, Miro Muheim
Unused subs James Russell, Cole Dasilva, Richard Nartey
Booked Houghton, McCormick
Everton Louis Gray, Gethin Jones, Matty Foulds, Beni Baningime, Morgan Feeney, Callum Connolly, Antony Evans (Lewis Gibson 75), Liam Walsh (c), Bassala Sambou (Nathan Broadhead 78), Oumar Niasse, Harry Charsley (Anton Donkor 90+1)
Unused subs Joe Hilton, Josh Bowler
Scorers Colley (og) 18; Baningime 56; Niasse 87
Booked Connolly, Evans
Referee Matthew Donohue