It was frustration on Merseyside for our development squad as they came from behind to level but conceded again and succumbed to defeat in Premier League 2.
Fraser Hornby broke the deadlock early on from close range but Daishawn Redan equalised with a predatory finish to restore parity before the break. However, Bassala Sambou’s strike on the hour mark proved the difference on a night that saw Kasey Palmer complete 45 minutes on his injury comeback.
Edwards made six changes from our last PL2 outing, a 5-0 victory at Sunderland a fortnight previously, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu absent after first team involvement in the FA Cup. Reece James, Joseph Colley and Josh Grant retuned in a rejigged back four alongside Trevoh Chalobah, with Jamie Cumming retaining his place in goal.
Luke McCormick joined skipper Ruben Sammut, Jacob Maddox and Kyle Scott in a midfield diamond, with Harvey St Clair and Redan leading the line up front.
Visits to Everton are generally tough tests and our latest trip to Merseyside opened in typically combative fashion, with the hosts willing to mix up the game by playing longer and more direct on a patchy pitch at Southport’s Haig Avenue.
Both sides lined up in variations of 4-4-2, a rare occurrence in modern English football, and it was the home side’s centre-forward pairing who combined for the opening goal inside 10 minutes. The Toffees advanced gradually down the left before Conor Grant supplied a cross and Sambou flicked it onwards at the near post. The ball fell nicely for the alert Hornby, who diverted it beyond Cumming’s dive from six yards out.
It took a further few minutes but Edwards’s side slowly settled into their possession-based game, moving the ball around the field in search of openings. Maddox found the advanced James on the right wing and the full-back demonstrated strength and technique to hold off a challenge from Matty Foulds and deliver a cross, though the stretching St Clair couldn’t quite reach the inviting ball across the face of goal.
Maddox then dragged a shot wide of the near post after a neat exchange with McCormick on the edge of the box as our youngsters increased their threat, though Sambou fired a warning shot at Cumming’s goal down the other end that lacked accuracy but reminded the visitors of their need to stay concentrated.
The scoreline soon reflected the improvement of Edwards’s side as they restored parity on the half-hour mark. Scott spread the play to the right, James worked enough space to swing in a typically teasing delivery and this time a striker was on hand to provide the finish, Redan stealing in to poke the ball beyond Mateusz Hewelt for his ninth goal of the campaign.
It was about par for our determined efforts and refusal to allow the early goal conceded to damage our belief. Scott had a sight at goal from 20 yards out as St Clair’s floated free-kick was headed away but the midfielder’s volley was far too high to trouble Everton’s Polish keeper.
Cumming was positioned well to hold Antony Evans’s firm header following another front-post flick from Sambou, while it was the latter who almost benefited from a loose pass back from Colley moments later, though the German forward could not find the right angle to get a shot away at goal.
The pre-planned introduction of Palmer at the interval brought an injection of final-third creativity as the 21-year-old looked bright on his injury comeback, though it was Redan with a good early chance to strike us in front as the teenage Dutchman met St Clair’s centre but could not hit the target with his header.
Redan then forced a smart save from Hewelt with a powerful effort but it was Everton who scored next, restoring their advantage after an hour. A role reversal between the front two saw Hornby win a header to set Sambou running at James and he checked back inside before placing a precise finish into the bottom corner from 18 yards out.
The positive for Edwards and his players was another 30 minutes of action to find an equaliser and they remained patient in their build-up play. James went close to an instant reply with a strike from distance that flew narrowly wide before Palmer’s lovely diagonal pass initiated a chance for St Clair, though the forward’s finish was wayward.
Everton’s primary threat was now on the counter-attack and Nathangelo Markelo did well to find Hornby with a searching ball down the right, though the striker could only blaze a shot wide from a narrow angle.
Our development squad kept creating and St Clair thought he had fashioned the perfect opportunity after a neat one-two with Scott to release him into space in the 18-yard box. His eyes lit up as the image of the net grew in front of him but Gibson spotted the danger and raced across the box to make an excellent block.
The defender then threatened on the edge of the opposite box, hitting a strike with swerve that Cumming did well to gather without spilling. The final chance came in stoppage time as Chalobah rose highest to nod down a cross but the dropping ball fell just out of reach for Redan and the Blues were left to rue it just not being their day.
It’s a quick turnaround for our development squad this week and they return to PL2 action at Aldershot against Leicester City on Friday, again live on Chelsea TV.
Chelsea (4-diamond-2) Jamie Cumming; Reece James, Joseph Colley, Trevoh Chalobah, Josh Grant; Ruben Sammut (c), Luke McCormick (Kasey Palmer h/t), Jacob Maddox (Isaac Christie-Davies 80), Kyle Scott; Harvey St Clair; Daishawn Redan
Unused subs Marcin Bulka, Cole Dasilva, Richard Nartey
Scorer Redan 30
Booked James 90+5
Everton (4-4-2) Mateusz Hewelt; Nathangelo Markelo (Josh Bowler 84), Morgan Feeney (c), Lewis Gibson, Matthew Foulds; Antony Evans, Dennis Adeniran (Jose Baxter 51), Conor Grant, Nathan Broadhead (Alex Denny 56); Fraser Hornby, Bassala Sambou
Unused subs Joe Hilton, Shayne Lavery
Scorers Hornby 7; Sambou 60
Booked Foulds 32; Evans 90+2; Hornby 90+3
Referee Peter Wright