The Checkatrade Trophy journey towards Wembley continues for our development squad after they scored in both halves to beat League One opposition at Stamford Bridge.
Our youngsters were semi-finalists last term, beaten only on penalties by the eventual winners Lincoln City, and they battled their way into the last-16 with a gritty performance under the lights in SW6.
Charlie Brown broke the deadlock from the penalty spot nine minutes before half-time after Marc Guehi had won a penalty for a foul just inside the 18-yard box. That advantage was doubled two minutes after the restart as Daishawn Redan headed in from close range following a brilliant cross from Tino Anjorin.
Wimbledon reduced the arrears with 20 minutes remaining when Anthony Wordsworth hooked in the aftermath of a corner, though the substitute was then sent off in the closing stages as the visitors ran out of steam and their cup run ran out of time. The draw for the next round will be made on Saturday.
Edwards made three changes from the win at Plymouth in the final group game, with Billy Gilmour, Josh Grant and Martell Taylor Crossdale dropping to the bench replaced by Anjorin, Guehi and Redan.
Redan led the line up front alongside Brown in our preferred 3-5-2 system, with Guehi next to Joseph Colley and Richard Nartey in a back three protecting Jamie Cumming in goal. Tariq Lamptey and Juan Castillo continued at wing-back, while Conor Gallagher and Anjorin lined up in midfield along with George McEachran, an ever-present at this age group in 2018/19.
AFC Wimbledon had a new manager in the dugout following the appointment of Wally Downes earlier in the day and he made eight changes in total from their 3-1 weekend win in the FA Cup, which meant the League One side started with an average age five years older than their hosts.
The Blues settled quickly on the Stamford Bridge pitch and Anjorin was soon charging at the Dons defence from the heart of midfield, the 17-year-old’s lively cameo at Home Park five weeks previously earning him the opportunity to feature from the start in the competition for the first time.
Gallagher took aim at goal with the game’s first shot with seven minutes on the clock after persistent play won possession deep in the Wimbledon half, though the England Under-19 international’s curling effort from 25 yards flew narrowly wide of Tom King’s upright.
Edwards’s side had kept two clean sheets in the group stage, a defensive resilience from which their progress had been built, and they looked untroubled by their senior opponents in the early exchanges. Anjorin was the next to threaten, once again moving intelligently to find a pocket of space on the edge of the box, but his well-struck drive hit a teammate and spun away from danger.
Wimbledon started to grow into the contest after the first 20 minutes and forced the hosts into more severe and more frequent defensive work. Nartey did well to head clear a dangerous corner under pressure from an attacker in yellow before they fashioned two goalscoring opportunities in quick succession.
James Hanson first hit a crashing effort against the crossbar after Tyler Burey’s cross had looped up invitingly into his path, before Cumming was called into action for the first time in the evening. Tyler Garratt this time supplied the cross from the left wing, which Guehi initially headed clear but only as far as Anthony Hartigan.
The teenager watched the dropping ball and cut across it brilliantly to send it spinning away from Cumming and towards the bottom corner, though our keeper did excellently to fly across goal and fingertip the ball away.
With the game largely quiet and tense, it was a moment almost out of the blue that saw the deadlock broken nine minutes before half-time. A wide free-kick was recycled by the Blues and found its way to the feet of the retreating Guehi right on the edge of the 18-yard box.
The danger seemed minimal but Liam Trotter dived in trying to win the ball and made some contact with our defender, giving the referee reason to point to the spot. Brown stepped up to assume responsibility and made no mistake from 12 yards, firing down the middle for his 16th goal of the season.
The advantage may have been greater by the interval as Redan darted across the front post to meet Lamptey’s deflected delivery, though the Dutchman could not quite make contact to divert the ball past the flat-footed goalkeeper.
The Dons threatened once more before the break as another cross from Burey caused problems in our six-yard box, with Cumming’s punch clear lacking power, but Trotter’s instinctive flick landed wide of the goal in front of the Matthew Harding Stand.
Restarts can be pivotal when the deficit is at one, with the ‘next goal is crucial’ cliché particularly relevant. It worked against us during September’s defeat at Newport County, our only loss in 90 minutes across the last two years in the competition, when the Welsh side made it 2-0 within minutes of the second half starting.
However, Edwards’s team talk had the desired effect on this occasion as his young side doubled their lead after 47 minutes. Gallagher and Anjorin made ground down the right and the latter whipped in a brilliant delivery across the face of goal that handed Redan the simple task of heading home from a few yards out.
It was a goal that rewarded technical proficiency and clever movement from two 17-year-olds, out-thinking and out-manoeuvring opponents in some cases 14 years their senior, and it handed the visitors an even more difficult task in the drizzly west London rain.
Alfie Egan tried to inspire the comeback, flashing a strike wide of the far post, before the Blues almost scored a third at the end of their best passing move of the match. McEachran, Gallagher and Brown were all involved to tee up Anjorin, whose effort was blocked well by Will Nightingale.
That play drew applause from Edwards on the touchline but the manager was growing increasingly frustrated as his side dropped deeper and became more complacent in possession.
Two introductions combined to create a chance for the visitors as the contest ticked towards the final 20 minutes, Joe Pigott stretching to meet Wordsworth’s inswinging cross, but the ball dropped straight into Cumming’s grateful gloves. However, Wimbledon soon sealed their route back into the tie with a goal from substitute Wordsworth, who latched on to a loose ball in the box following a right-sided corner and hooked it beyond Cumming from 10 yards out.
This was a final period of the game for our youngsters to show their resilience and character, as well as their quality. Cumming did just that moments after conceding as he sprung into the air to push Terell Thomas’s rising drive over the crossbar. Michael Pinnock then dragged a shot wide and Jake Jervis headed over at the near post as the Dons pushed for a late leveller.
Edwards introduced midfield reinforcements in the shape of Billy Gilmour and Luke McCormick, the latter involved swiftly as he got on the end of Lamptey’s cutback from the right touchline, though his finish was just too high over the angle of post and crossbar.
The challenge faded further when the Dons were reduced to 10 men with minutes remaining as Wordsworth saw red for a late kick out at Lamptey as the wing-back accelerated away from him on the wing. It meant there was small scope for a dramatic finale and the Blues managed the remaining minutes with maturity as they sealed a place in the last-16.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Jamie Cumming; Joseph Colley, Richard Nartey (c), Marc Guehi; Tariq Lamptey (Josh Grant 88), Conor Gallagher, George McEachran, Tino Anjorin (Luke McCormick 71), Juan Castillo; Daishawn Redan, Charlie Brown (Billy Gilmour 83)
Unused subs Martell Taylor-Crossdale, Renedi Masampu, Jared Thompson, Clinton Mola
Scorers Brown (pen) 37; Redan 47
Booked Redan, McCormick
AFC Wimbledon Tom King, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Anthony Hartigan, Jake Jervis, Tyler Garratt, Liam Trotter (c) (Anthony Wordsworth 66), James Hanson (Joe Pigott 57), Toby Sibbick, Alfie Egan (Michael Pinnock 66), Tyler Burey
Unused subs Nick Tzanev, Tennai Watson, Scott Wagstaff, Paul Kalambayi
Scorer Wordsworth 70
Booked Jervis, Pinnock
Sent off Wordsworth 87
Referee Charles Breakspear
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom