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By Jack Malone

Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma stepped up his recovery from a knee injury by playing 45 minutes for the club’s under-23 side on Monday night, report The Daily Mail.

The Frenchman had not played since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in February but returned to the field for the development squad in the 2-2 draw with Derby County.

— Kurt Zouma (@KurtZouma) October 24, 2016

His long-awaited appearance did not go exactly to plan, however, as Zouma gave away a penalty on 35 minutes, which was missed by Rams forward Charles Vernam before Callum Guy converted the rebound.

Jay Dasilva equalised for the Blues from the spot, before Ike Ugbo put them ahead, only for Farrend Rawson to level for County midway through the second half.

The draw kept Chelsea seventh in the Premier League 2 table, but the main story from this encounter was undoubtedly Zouma’s return.

The centre-back was a regular in the senior side last season before picking up the horrific injury in a home match against Manchester United on February 7.

He landed awkwardly after contesting a header and replays showed his knee giving way beneath him.

Zouma was ruled out of the rest of the season as well as the European Championships in his native France, but new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte will be delighted by the progress the 21-year-old is making.

Although it is still too early for him to be considered for the first team, the Italian coach’s defensive prospects are suddenly looking much brighter.

The Blues kept a fourth clean sheet of the season and third in a row with the 4-0 rout of United at the weekend, while skipper John Terry is expected to play a part in the League Cup tie at West Ham United in midweek; he hasn’t featured since mid-September.

If they can get Zouma fit and ready, then Conte has the makings of a backline to rival any in the Premier League.