UNDER-21 REPORT: CHELSEA 1 BLACKBURN ROVERS 0
Chelsea's Under-21 side ended the campaign with a narrow win at home to Blackburn on Monday morning.
Coming just hours before the youth team is in Cup final action at Norwich, it was an assorted line-up fielded by coach Dermot Drummy, who was able to call on both Patrick Bamford and Billy Clifford following the completion of their loans at MK Dons and Colchester United respectively, and it was Clifford who struck the winner inside the final five minutes, slotting low into the bottom corner after winning possession high up the pitch.
Until that point Chelsea had only sporadically threatened, and had been outplayed by Rovers in the first half as the combination of Academy youngsters and Under-21 regulars struggled to gel, but gradually the Blues gained a foothold in the game, and were rewarded with Clifford's late winner (pictured).
It brings to an end a long league season for the Under-21s, who climbed above Middlesbrough in the Barclays Premier Under-21 League Group 1 table with the three points this game brought, ending the campaign behind Everton, Fulham and Aston Villa.
Chelsea could have fallen behind early and needed a Daniel Pappoe block inside the area to avoid a likely goal. From the resulting corner a scramble inside the area saw a combination of Jesse Starkey and Aziz Deen-Conteh clear off the line and the ball strike the crossbar.
A long pass over the top released Milan Lalkovic through the left channel for Chelsea's first opportunity, but the Slovakian was denied by a firm but fair challenge on the edge of the Blackburn area.
Jamal Backman made one decent save low down as the visitors threatened further, but was then involved in a mix-up with Pappoe that almost presented Blackburn with an opener, their forward poking the ball just wide from 12 yards.
Of concern to the Blues will be the two injuries picked up towards the end of the first half, with both Isak Ssewankambo and Sam Bangura needing to be replaced. Connor Hunte and Nortei Nortey were the reinforcements, with Lamisha Musonda dropping deeper into midfield alongside Starkey and Billy Clifford, who like striker Patrick Bamford had just returned from a loan in League One
Bamford had seen little of the ball in the opening 45 minutes, but did get a chance early in the second half, stinging the palms of the Blackburn goalkeeper after Archange Nkumu had made a timely interception at the other end to deny the away side an opener.
Clifford then played a tidy pass over the top for the forward to chase, and he got there just before the goalkeeper but could not divert the ball beyond him as a goalless draw looked increasingly likely.
Blackburn almost contributed to their own downfall when a defender headed the ball past their goalkeeper as Bamford chased another through ball, only for the same player to clear off the line.
Musonda was impressing in midfield with his tidy passing, while alongside him Starkey showed good footwork and an eye for a longer ball.
As the game wore on there was no doubt Chelsea had become the more threatening side, and it eventually paid off inside the last five minutes when the hard-working Clifford won possession inside the Blackburn area, and finished calmly with the outside of his foot into the bottom corner.
It was a harsh blow for Rovers to take, given they had forced more clear cut chances than the hosts, but Drummy and his players will not mind one bit. They will remain at Cobham until the first team season finishes late in May.
Chelsea: Jamal Blackman; Sam Bangura (sub Nortei Nortey 40), Daniel Pappoe (c), Archange Nkumu, Aziz Deen-Conteh; Billy Clifford, Isak Ssewankambo (sub Connor Hunte 30), Jesse Starkey; Lamisha Musonda, Patrick Bamford, Milan Lalkovic.
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Jonathan Muleba, Ismail Seremba.