Our development squad shared the points with Leicester City at Aldershot after an entertaining Sunday lunchtime contest in Premier League 2.
A game of many chances saw the deadlock broken from the penalty spot after half an hour as Callum Hudson-Odoi converted after a foul on Tariq Lamptey, though Japanese international Shinji Okazaki headed in the equaliser from close range midway through the second period.
The Blues might have triumphed with a more ruthless streak in front of goal, though Leicester will also feel they had opportunities to turn one point into three, not least when substitute Callum Wright spurned a free header from eight yards out. The result keeps Joe Edwards’s side fourth after five games, while the Foxes jump to the top of the table.
Ethan Ampadu, Lucas Piazon and Hudson-Odoi came into the side as three changes were made from the 11 that recorded an impressive victory at Swansea last time out, with Richard Nartey, Tariq Uwakwe and Charlie Brown all dropping to the bench.
Hudson-Odoi joined Daishawn Redan up front as Edwards continued with the 3-5-2 system that has served the young Blues so well in the early part of this campaign, while Ampadu lined up alongside Josh Grant and Joseph Colley in the back three in front of goalkeeper Marcin Bulka. Juan Castillo and Lamptey continued in the wing-back roles with Piazon, Billy Gilmour and George McEachran operating in central midfield.
Leicester arrived in Aldershot second in the table and bolstered by the inclusion of three senior internationals in their ranks. Andy King spent six years in the Chelsea Academy before winning a Premier League title with the Foxes, while Shinji Okazaki missed just two league games in that stunning season at the King Power Stadium and has 116 Japan caps to his name.
Despite naming Piazon among the starters, it was an otherwise teenage Chelsea team up against opponents four years their senior, though this crop have become accustomed to such tests and were unfazed by the challenging circumstances on a mild afternoon in Aldershot.
Hudson-Odoi proved the early spark for the hosts and his direct dribbling provided warning signs for Steve Beaglehole’s team, initially with the delivery of a pass for Redan that the Dutchman controlled but fired straight at a defender. The forward then picked up possession midway into the Leicester half and drove into a pocket of space on the edge of the box, though his bending drive flashed inches wide of the far post.
The visitors were typically direct in their approach play, utilising the height and physicality of frontman Ryan Loft, with Okazaki playing alongside the former Spurs striker in a 4-4-2 shape. Loft went closest in the opening exchanges, cushioning a first-time effort narrowly wide after an inviting delivery from Fousseni Diabate on the right wing.
Edwards’s side worked hard to settle into the contest and soon established a foothold in the game, with McEachran controlling play from a deep midfield position and Gilmour epitomising the ratty work-rate of the team out of possession.
A promising move was crafted after 20 minutes as Piazon led a forward charge down the right channel and fed the overlapping wing-back Lamptey, whose swinging centre flashed across the face of goal. Castillo retrieved the ball at the far post and moved it to his Netherlands Under-19 teammate Redan, though the striker fired over the bar from a narrow angle.
Down the other end, Diabate did well to advance and found King in space on the edge of the box but the 29-year-old’s strike lacked the accuracy to trouble Bulka between the sticks for the Blues. An open and entertaining encounter continued to swing this way and that, though it was Chelsea who continued to carve out the clearer opportunities.
Piazon might have done better with a sight at goal midway through the half, the Brazilian exchanging passes with Redan but delaying slightly and allowing Josh Knight the chance to make an excellent recovery tackle. From goalkeeper Viktor Johansson’s throw back into play, Hudson-Odoi quickly stole the ball back and fashioned another chance for Piazon, who this time skipped away from the defender’s challenge before shooting against the sprawling legs of Johansson.
An impressive opening half hour was soon converted into an advantage on the scoreboard for the Blues, though it came in seemingly fortuitous circumstances as Lamptey was awarded a penalty for a tumble right on the edge of the box. McEachran had initiated the move with a sweeping diagonal pass out to the right flank and Lamptey’s control was instant to take the ball inside full-back Callum Elder, who bundled into the back of the England youth international.
The foul was undisputed but it appeared to have taken place outside the 18-yard box, which perplexed the visitors when referee Will Finnie pointed to the spot. Hudson-Odoi had no qualms about the award and confidently stepped up to dispatch the ball into the net from 12 yards for his first club goal of the season.
A break in the deadlock acted to open the game up further still and there could have been more goals before the break. McEachran and Hudson-Odoi combined on the counter-attack but Knight thwarted Redan as he prepared to strike moving on to the latter’s square pass, before the lively Diabate threatened down the right and forced Bulka into a smart stop.
Leicester went closest to an equaliser moments before the break as a corner from the right was cleared only as far as Diabate. The Malian found himself in space 20 yards from goal as the majority of players congregated in the six-yard box following the set-piece and his effort on the volley was sweetly struck but blocked on the line by the well-positioned Lamptey.
Diabate continued to show the qualities that earned him a move from the French second tier to the East Midlands this summer and went close to finding the bottom corner in added time at the end of the first half. Cutting inside from the right, he fired left-footed across Bulka’s goal but the ball dipped just the wrong side of the post.
Where the Blues proved in the ascendancy for much of the first period, it was Leicester who restarted brightest as they searched for a route back into the game. Bulka gave everybody a momentary scare when he allowed a pass back to roll underneath his foot, though our Polish keeper was quick to spare his blushes and retrieve the ball before it trickled over the line.
Diabate fired wide and Okazaki missed the target with a close-range diving header before the Foxes restored parity 20 minutes after the restart. A deep cross was hung in from the right and the 5ft 9in Okazaki reached it first in the six-yard box, guiding his header past Bulka for the leveller.
Our response was positive and prompt, Redan and Piazon combining intricately in the box, but the Brazilian played one pass too many and Johansson was out bravely at the feet of Gilmour to make the save.
Both sides knew turning a draw into victory would take them top of the league and the visitors ought to have notched the game’s third goal after 72 minutes. The chance was fashioned once again from a wide area as Okazaki swung in a delivery and substitute Wright hung highest in the centre, though his firm planted header landed wide.
A game of countless chances was always likely to have the propensity for late drama so Johansson had to stay alert to tip over Castillo’s swerving cross, while Caglar Soyuncu made an excellent last-ditch block to deny Hudson-Odoi as the forward exchanged passes with Charlie Brown and scampered into the box.
In the end, the points were shared between two of the top four in PL2 Division One though both managers will have reason to bemoan profligacy in front of goal in denying them the full complement of points on offer. Nevertheless, Edwards’s side continued their positive start to the new campaign and will take plenty of learning from such a stern challenge. They return to league action next weekend with a trip to West Ham.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Marcin Bulka; Josh Grant (c), Joseph Colley, Ethan Ampadu; Tariq Lamptey, Billy Gilmour, George McEachran, Lucas Piazon, Juan Castillo; Callum Hudson-Odoi, Daishawn Redan (Charlie Brown 88)
Unused subs Jamie Cumming, Tariq Uwakwe, Richard Nartey, Marc Guehi
Scorer Hudson-Odoi (pen) 30
Leicester City Viktor Johansson, Darnell Johnson, Callum Elder, Hamza Choudhury (c), Josh Knight, Caglar Soyuncu, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Andy King (Lamine Sheriff 87), Ryan Loft (Callum Wright 57), Shinji Okazaki, Fousseni Diabate (Alex Pascanu 79)
Unused subs Rhys Davies, Raul Uche
Scorer Okazaki 66
Booked Knight, King
Referee Will Finnie
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom