Luke McCormick marked his return from a lengthy injury layoff with a stunning goal to settle an entertaining Premier League 2 contest at soaking wet Aldershot.
The 20-year-old fired the hosts in front midway through the first half with a brilliant bending effort into the far corner and it proved to be a significant moment in the game as Joe Edwards’s side collected three points at home for only the second time all season.
They were aided in the second period by a red card shown to Manchester City defender Cameron Humphreys after an hour and then further dismissals for Taylor Richards and Jeremie Frimpong, the latter coming after the final whistle as City lost their discipline. Daishawn Redan wrapped up the points in stoppage time with a neat close-range finish as the Blues moved up to fifth in the table.
There were four changes from our previous outing at Tottenham a week previously as goalkeeper Jamie Cumming missed out with injury, Ethan Ampadu returned to senior team duties and the strike duo of Redan and Martell Taylor-Crossdale dropped to the bench.
Karlo Ziger came into the team in goal protected by a back three of Marc Guehi, Richard Nartey and Ian Maatsen, while Tariq Lamptey and Juan Castillo continued at wing-back. Billy Gilmour got the goal in the 1-1 draw with Spurs and Conor Gallagher joined him in central midfield. Further forward, McCormick returned alongside Tariq Uwakwe to support Charlie Brown in attack.
City started the game two places but just one point behind Edwards’s side so there was plenty at stake in our penultimate home game of the campaign. The visitors settled quicker on a wet pitch but it was the Blues who fashioned the first chance with five minutes on the clock.
Castillo caused the problems, accelerating into space down the left and sending in a low cross that was flicked into McCormick’s path cleverly by Brown, though the captain’s first-time shot was tipped over by Daniel Grimshaw in the City goal.
Nevertheless, it was a moment that sparked the hosts into life and they increased the pressure with a series of set-pieces that posed defensive questions of Paul Harsley’s team. Gallagher went closest to latching on to a loose ball in the box after one such delivery but the midfielder was just beaten to it by a sky blue shirt.
The persistent Hampshire rain made conditions tough and Ziger was almost caught out by the slippery surface after 15 minutes. Ian Carlo Poveda fashioned the space to fire a shot at goal and the Croatian initially spilled the ball before recovering to collect at the second attempt.
It was a 4-1 win for Edwards’s boys when these two sides met in Manchester back in October and our approach once again stifled City’s passing game. A bright start was soon translated into an advantage on the scoreboard as we scored at Aldershot for the first time since December. It was a spectacular strike fitting of breaking any deadlock as McCormick exchanged passes with Uwakwe and then curled a stunning strike beyond the goalkeeper’s dive and into the far corner.
After a fairly uneventful opening 25 minutes, a goal brought the contest to life and Ziger was forced to work hard to keep our lead intact. Felix Nmecha proved dangerous down the left wing, jinking into the box and firing into the side netting, before the Hamburg-born wideman went much closer with a powerful free-kick that brought an excellent flying save from our goalkeeper.
City were much improved as the half wore on, moving the ball quicker and forcing openings in the final third. Taylor Richards teed up Poveda with a neat pass forward but the England Under-19 international’s touch was a heavy one and Ziger was able to push the ball to safety.
The Croatian then denied Adrian Bernabe as the hosts ended the first half hanging on to their advantage, with the top of the crossbar thwarting Nabil Touaizi in added time. It was a similarly front-footed start to the second half from City, Poveda firing narrowly over after a dangerous run through the middle and Nmecha flashing the ball through the box but failing to pick out a teammate in the middle.
Yet the balance of the contest shifted on the hour mark as Humphreys picked up a second yellow card for an unnecessary foul on Gallagher right in front of the dugouts. It compounded the tough task ahead for the visitors and meant the Blues would play over 30 minutes with an extra man for the second game running.
The 10 men lost some of their attacking impetus and Chelsea soon started to capitalise, particularly through the increasingly influential Uwakwe. The midfielder’s clever skill drew a foul on the right and he almost picked out Guehi in the centre from the free-kick but Eric Garcia intervened just in the nick of time.
Moving into the final 20 minutes, Grimshaw made a routine save to hold on to Uwakwe’s free-kick as the Blues sensed they may need a second goal to secure the points. That feeling was reinforced down the other end as Ziger had to show bravery and smart reactions in diving at the feet of substitute Lorenzo Gonzalez.
The Swiss striker threatened again moments later with a burst down the right channel and a fierce drive but Ziger wasn’t needed on this occasion as the ball rose narrowly off target. A competitive contest saw the yellow card count reach double figures as City tired. Brown almost teed up a perfect chance for Uwakwe but the midfielder stumbled, while Lamptey had the ball in the back of the net but was ruled offside.
Drama piqued in the final stages with a second goal for the hosts, created by Lamptey’s quick feet down the right and finished by Redan from two yards out. Richards was booked for the second time in the aftermath of the goal for dissent, while Frimpong saw red after the final whistle as City surrendered their discipline as well as the points.
Edwards takes charge of our Under-19s next time out in the UEFA Youth League with Montpellier the visitors to Cobham on Wednesday.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Karlo Ziger; Marc Guehi, Richard Nartey, Ian Maatsen; Tariq Lamptey, Billy Gilmour, Conor Gallagher (Clinton Mola 90+3), Juan Castillo; Tariq Uwakwe, Luke McCormick (c) (George McEachran 73); Charlie Brown (Daishawn Redan 79)
Unused subs Marcin Bulka, Martell Taylor-Crossdale
Scorers McCormick 25; Redan 90+2
Booked Gallagher, Lamptey, Gilmour
Manchester City Daniel Grimshaw, Colin Rosler (Jeremie Frimpong h/t), Cameron Humphreys, Eric Garcia (c), Tyreke Wilson, Iker Pozo, Ian Carlo Poveda, Taylor Richards, Nabil Touaizi (Lorenzo Gonzalez 64), Adrian Bernabe (Tommy Doyle 85), Felix Nmecha
Unused subs Tom Scott, Benjamin Garre
Booked Rosler, Humphreys, Pozo, Bernabe, Richards, Wilson, Doyle
Sent off Humphreys 58, Richards 90+4; Frimpong 90+5
Referee Gary Parsons
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom