Our development squad came from behind to pick up a point in their opening Premier League 2 game of the season at Stamford Bridge.
An even contest was level at the break after a half of few opportunities but the second period proved more eventful. Marc Guehi was adamant he had given the Blues the lead early after the restart with a back-post header that appeared to cross the line but the officials were unconvinced and the absence of goal-line technology at this level meant the deadlock remained.
That lasted just a few minutes before Harry Charsley’s drive from distance squirmed away from Marcin Bulka in the Chelsea goal and over the line for the opener. Yet Joe Edwards’s side showed resilience and mettle to launch a comeback and restored parity within 10 minutes as Charly Musonda squeezed a penalty underneath the goalkeeper after Tariq Lamptey had been felled in the box. It meant the Blues begin the season with an early point on the board against the 2017 champions.
Edwards made one change from an impressive midweek victory at Swindon Town in the Checkatrade Trophy, replacing goalkeeper Jamie Cumming with the returning Bulka. The rest of the team were unchanged as Bulka’s protection came in the form of Fankaty Dabo, Joseph Colley and Guehi across the back three.
Ike Ugbo and Charlie Brown netted three of the four goals in Wiltshire and the attacking duo led the line supported by Musonda and Luke McCormick, the latter having recovered from a dead leg suffered early in the Swindon tie. George McEachran anchored as the deepest midfielder, while Lamptey and Juan Castillo continued at wing-back.
The Toffees arrived in SW6 with a team containing five teenagers to our nine and their centre-back pairing in particular boasted significant senior experience. However, our efforts in midweek and an excellent run to the Checkatrade Trophy semi-finals last term has taught our youngsters not to fear the challenge of older opposition.
The game’s first chance fell for the hosts with 11 minutes on the clock as our striking pair combined to cause problems in the Everton 18-yard box. Lamptey’s delivery from the right was floated invitingly for Ugbo and his cushioned header landed perfectly in the path of Brown, though goalkeeper Joe Hilton made an important save to keep out a first-time shot from six yards.
Lamptey’s lively performance at Swindon was resumed in west London and the diminutive wideman was getting the better of England Under-21 left-back Brendan Galloway down the Chelsea right flank. A teasing centre was headed away by Tyias Browning from right beneath the Everton crossbar, while Matthew Pennington cleared another inswinging effort as the Blues stepped up the pressure.
However, clear-cut chances remained at a premium for both sides on an overcast afternoon at Stamford Bridge. Dabo defended well to cut out a forward pass that would have sent Nathan Broadhead clear on goal, while Bulka read the danger and raced to the edge of his box to head away a lofted ball over the top.
The only work of note for our Polish keeper came seven minutes before the break when he plucked a header from Fraser Hornby out of the air, the Everton striker’s effort lacking power as he stretched to reach Antony Evans’s ball into the box.
Edwards’s boys were controlling much of the possession but lacking a final touch of quality in the final third, which was epitomised late in the half when McCormick fashioned a sight at goal but scuffed harmlessly wide.
The contest restarted with opportunities down both ends, the first falling for Broadhead after a defence-splitting pass, though Bulka proved equal to the midfielder’s side-foot effort. Down the other end moments later, it looked like the hosts had taken a deserved lead as Guehi powered in a header from a corner. However, despite the ball appearing to have crossed the line clearly before being hacked clear by a defender, the officials were unconvinced.
Within six minutes, David Unsworth’s side were 1-0 up themselves. The danger seemed under control as Charsley advanced through the centre and took aim from distance but the ball sailed high towards goal and squirmed away from Bulka’s grasp, bouncing agonisingly over the line for the opener.
It was a goal that asked severe questions of the young Blues but their response was positive. McCormick fired wide and Ugbo headed just off-target from another Lamptey inswinging cross, while Bulka did well to make a double save and keep out Hornby then Broadhead from close range.
The hosts were behind for less than 10 minutes and it was the lively Lamptey at the heart of the move that brought us back into the game, the wing-back latching on to a through ball before being scythed down by Galloway’s sliding challenge. There was no doubt it was a penalty and, just like in Swindon on Tuesday, Musonda converted the spot-kick (pictured top), albeit less convincingly as the ball squeezed underneath Hilton and into the back of the net.
Both sides sensed an opportunity to turn one point into three in the final 20 minutes, though it was Everton who went closer to snatching the victory. Broadhead curled a dangerous effort just over before Bulka and the crossbar kept the score level, our goalkeeper flying across his line to keep out Broadhead again before Pennington’s header from the following corner bounced up on to the frame of the goal and away to safety.
In the final minute of added time, Galloway had Chelsea hearts in mouths as he advanced to the byline and rolled the ball right across the face of goal, though nobody in an Everton shirt was on hand to convert. In the end, a point apiece was perhaps a fair reflection of an even encounter. Our development squad return to action in PL2 away to Blackburn Rovers on Monday 20 August.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Marcin Bulka; Fankaty Dabo (c), Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi; Tariq Lamptey, Charly Musonda, George McEachran, Luke McCormick (Billy Gilmour 64), Juan Castillo; Charlie Brown (Daishawn Redan 64), Ike Ugbo
Unused subs Jamie Cumming, Renedi Masampu, Tariq Uwakwe
Scorer Musonda (pen) 69
Everton Joe Hilton, Nathangelo Markelo, Brendan Galloway, Joe Williams, Tyias Browning (c), Matthew Pennington, Antony Evans (Bassala Sambou 74), Harry Charsley (Josh Bowler 86), Fraser Hornby, Nathan Broadhead, Anthony Gordon (Dennis Adeniran h/t)
Unused subs Mateusz Hewelt, Matthew Foulds
Scorer Charsley 60
Referee Christopher Pollard
-Additional picture courtesy of Mark Sandom