The Elite Development Squad kicked off their Barclays U21 Premier League campaign with a hard-earned 0-0 draw away to Chelsea.
With the seniors starting their title defence on Sunday against Southampton, the EDS were charged with the soft opening of 2012/13 on a balmy night at Brentford FC’s Griffin Park.
Atillio Lombardo admitted his side were a little late in their preparations for the season after experimenting with a number of trialists over the summer but they will take real heart from getting something out of one of their toughest away assignments.
City’s team took on a more familiar look and shape for this encounter, Lombardo including Denis Suarez, George Evans and Marcos Lopes in the starting XI after their first-team exertions in Austria and the Far East over the summer.
Anyone looking for an endorsement of this new U21s league structure only needed to look into the home of the Bees on Friday night to witness plenty of industry in an attractive match, characterised by two teams looking to keep the ball on the floor and work the space.
Despite having marginally less possession in the opening half, it was City who looked the more dangerous in the final third.
The first chance of the evening arrived after just two minutes when the EDS captain Suarez slipped the ball through to Jordy Mayfuila who fired his shot too close to Jamal Blackman in the Chelsea goal.
It was the same combination that threatened to break the deadlock after 20 minutes but this time Mayfuila’s goal was chalked off being a fraction of a yard offside when he arrived onto the Spaniard’s incisive through ball.
Chelsea’s threat did grow as the half wore on and Eirik Johansen had to be at his best to divert a stinging drive from Patrick Bamford away from danger on the half hour mark.
After the break the match lost something of its edge, perhaps unsurprising given that it was the first match of the season, but the teams did trade blows by way of early second half chances.
First it was Chelsea who nearly notched through Billy Clifford but the playmaker’s shot was a foot past Johansen’s post. Then City were denied by a great save from Blackman who turned away Rusnak’s powerful thump after the Slovakian bought himself a yard with his pace.
With time running out, Chelsea’s most impressive player on the night, Billy Clifford, nearly bagged all three points for the home side but his chip came back off the underside of the crossbar – it was then City’s turn to nearly win it through substitute Alex Henshall but his shot was turned away.
The introduction of Eden Hazard’s brother, Thorgan gave the match another interesting sub-plot but it wasn’t enough to give it the goal it warranted and Lombardo’s men kicked off their campaign with a very credible point.
City are next in action against Middlesbrough at home next Friday night.
Eirik Johansen, Shay Facey, Jeremy Helan, George Evans, Kieran Kennedy, Reece Wabara, Adam Drury (Emyr Huws), Marcos Lopes (Alex Henshall), Jordy Mayfuila (Harry Bunn), Denis Suarez, Albert Rusnak.
Subs not used: Greg Leigh, Ian Lawlor.
Jamal Blackman, Todd Kane, Alex Davey, Nathan Ake, Aziz Deen-Conteh, George Saville, Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah, Patrick Bamford, Billy Clifford, Lucas Piazon.