A late comeback handed our development squad all three points at home in the league for the first time this season as they scored three in the final 12 minutes to beat West Ham.
The youngsters were slow starters in Aldershot and eventually fell behind two minutes before the break when Reece Oxford rose highest in the box to head beyond Jamie Cumming. The Hammers then scored again early in the second half as Joe Powell finished from the penalty spot and gave the home side a daunting deficit to overcome.
However, tactical changes from the sidelines were key as Luke McCormick came off the bench to inspire and galvanise. The midfielder finished emphatically into the bottom corner 14 minutes after coming on before turning provider as Daishawn Redan headed in a leveller moments later. With the contest into added time, it was McCormick who rose highest in the box and headed in from close range to seal a precious three points for Joe Edwards’s side.
There were three changes from our midweek win over AFC Wimbledon in the Checkatrade Trophy, a result which places us in the hat for tomorrow’s last-16 draw, with Richard Nartey, Tino Anjorin and Daishawn Redan dropping to the bench. Josh Grant came in for Nartey in defence alongside Marc Guehi and Joseph Colley, while Billy Gilmour returned to the midfield after a bout of illness and Martell Taylor-Crossdale joined Charlie Brown up front.
Cumming was picked again in goal, Juan Castillo and Tariq Lamptey continued at wing-back, while George McEachran and Conor Gallagher joined Gilmour in the centre of the team. Lamptey, Gilmour and McEachran continued as ever-presents at this age group this term, featuring in all 16 matches so far in Premier League 2 and the Checkatrade Trophy.
It was a slow start from the Blues on a cold night in Hampshire, with their midweek exertions perhaps taking the zip out of their early play. Jahmal Hector-Ingram fired the first shot of the night after seven minutes, though Colley closed down quickly enough and Cumming comfortably gathered the effort down low.
The chance stirred the hosts into life and they advanced dangerously down the right flank through the interchanging Gilmour and Lamptey. The wing-back escaped clear to the byline and delivered into the box but the cross was cut out by Joseph Anang, the West Ham keeper.
Grant then threatened after stepping purposefully out of central defence and bursting forward through the middle, though Anang once again plucked his airborne cross from danger. The Hammers continued to create the clearer opportunities and ought to have been ahead before the 15-minute mark. Conor Coventry was afforded too much time and space to take a firm strike from 25 yards but failed to hit the target before Joe Powell spurned a great chance to make it 1-0.
The midfielder made an intelligent run down the inside-left channel and was picked out by Hector-Ingram’s pass into the box. He stepped inside Colley and really should have tested Cumming but made the wrong decision, choosing to take the shot on his preferred left foot rather than curl it inside the far post with his right.
West Ham’s persistent pestering out of possession was proving a significant issue to our build-up play from the back and the visitors continued to enjoy more of the ball as a result. Colley was twice called into last-ditch defending, initially heading away from right under his own bar before thwarting Hector-Ingram, who had capitalised on a loose pass at the back and was bearing down on goal.
Edwards’s side were fortunate to be level heading into half-time but it could have been better for them before the break. Gallagher instigated an attack with a clipped pass forward for Taylor-Crossdale and the ball was eventually fired across the face of goal by Lamptey. It was a teasing delivery towards Brown, who might have made some contact had he not been taken out by the retreating Josh Pask, however the referee did not see what appeared a clear foul in the box.
That decision was compounded with 43 minutes on the clock as the Hammers broke the deadlock from a set-piece. Grant was penalised for a foul and Powell fizzed in a flat delivery that found Oxford at the back post, the centre-back rising above everyone to power a header beyond Cumming.
Edwards was forced into changes at the break, swapping both his strikers for Redan and Tino Anjorin, and the switch had an early impact as the hosts restarted on the front foot. Gallagher stung the palms of Anang with a bending free-kick but it was the Hammers who added to their advantage 11 minutes into the second period.
Colley was guilty of diving into an unnecessary challenge in the box, upending Hector-Ingram in the process, and Powell stepped up to fire a confident penalty into the bottom corner.
Trailing at Aldershot has been a familiar position for our development squad to be in this season, their home stadium proving an unhappy hunting ground throughout 2018 with just one victory recorded this calendar year. However, they had come from behind to snatch a late point against Tottenham last month and that was the challenge in front of them again in the final half hour.
Yet it was the east Londoners threatening further goals and Cumming did well to save from the lively Hector-Ingram at his near post before Guehi hooked clear off the line after the striker had beaten our goalkeeper in a race for the ball and steered a shot towards the unmanned net.
While it looked like the points were slipping away from Edwards’s boys, the introduction of McCormick and switch of flanks for the wing-backs proved decisive in our comeback. Castillo, now operating from the right, signalled a warning for the visitors with an inswinging cross that was headed straight at Anang by McCormick, before the Blues turned the contest on its head with two goals in as many minutes.
Gallagher’s endeavour was at the heart of our first as he battled his way between defenders before pulling an inviting pass into the path of his midfield colleague McCormick, who fired a powerful and accurate drive into the bottom corner from 10 yards out.
Within two minutes, it was 2-2 as McCormick this time turned provider, though Lamptey should also take credit for scampering to the byline to keep in Castillo’s raking diagonal pass. McCormick then floated in a perfect cross for Redan to head beyond the stranded goalkeeper for his ninth goal of the season.
It looked from there like only one team could win the game in the final 10 minutes. Lamptey went close at the end of a counter-attack involving Redan and McCormick, but the wing-back fired into the side-netting from a narrowing angle. Down the other end, Colley made a crucial intervention to intercept Pask’s pass forward towards Bernardo Rosa.
In the final minute of normal time, Anang produced an impressive flying save to tip Gallagher’s left-footed drive over the crossbar as it looked like the Blues would have to settle for a share of the spoils.
Yet one final attack in stoppage time ensured the hosts collected their first league win at home since February. Another deep cross was floated into the box and McCormick’s clever run into space was perfect once again, the 19-year-old rising to cushion his header into the far corner.
It sparked late celebrations for Edwards and his players, a feeling of relief as much as joy permeating the December air as they rise to third in the PL2 table.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Jamie Cumming; Josh Grant (c), Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi; Tariq Lamptey, George McEachran, Billy Gilmour (Luke McCormick 64), Conor Gallagher, Juan Castilo; Martell Taylor-Crossdale (Tino Anjorin h/t), Charlie Brown (Daishawn Redan h/t)
Unused subs Richard Nartey, Jared Thompson
Scorers McCormick 78, 90; Redan 80
West Ham Joseph Anang, Ben Johnson (Mason Bennett 90), Tunji Akinola, Conor Coventry, Josh Pask, Reece Oxford, Dan Kemp (Jeremy Ngakia 84), Moses Makasi (c), Jahmal Hector-Ingram (Bernardo Rosa 81), Joe Powell, Vashon Neufville
Unused subs Nathan Trott, Amadou Diallo
Scorers Oxford 43; Powell (pen) 56
Booked Coventry, Oxford
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom