It was a tough night on Merseyside for our development squad as they saw a man sent off inside the opening 15 minutes and eventually went down to defeat against the league leaders.
An encouraging opening was thrown into disarray when Richard Nartey saw red for a last-man foul, changing the dynamic of the contest completely. Fraser Hornby soon put Everton in front but Joe Edwards’s side remained positive and continued to create, without unduly testing the home goalkeeper.
Tino Anjorin and Martell Taylor-Crossdale went closest to an equaliser after the restart before another sucker punch from the Toffees saw Bassala Sambou add a second from the spot. The result leaves us sixth in the league with seven matches remaining.
Edwards made four changes from last week’s defeat in the Checkatrade Trophy, with Josh Grant having since departed on loan to Yeovil Town and Juan Castillo absent with injury. Charlie Wakefield returned for only his second appearance of an injury-hit season, while 16-year-old Ian Maatsen started as the opposite wing-back in a 3-4-2-1 system.
The back three and goalkeeper were unchanged as Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi and Nartey lined up in front of Jamie Cumming. Daishawn Redan came in to lead the attack up front supported by Anjorin and Conor Gallagher, with Billy Gilmour and George McEachran operating deeper in the middle of the pitch.
Everton were beaten by second-placed Leicester City last time out to close the gap at the top to one point, placing increased importance on their first home fixture of 2019. Yet it was the visitors, all in yellow, who started brightest on a cold evening on Merseyside. Anjorin led the first attack down the left with just three minutes on the clock, running forward powerfully with the ball at his feet, but his cross was turned behind by Morgan Feeney and the resulting corners were defended well.
So often drawn into a physical fight against David Unsworth’s side, it was a mature opening from our youngsters, who took control of possession in the early stages and moved the ball purposefully in search of openings. With confidence rising, a mistake completely against the run of play rocked the game plan altogether.
Nartey was the last man when he let a pass slip under his boot and Sambou pounced swiftly, advancing through on goal before going down under the defender’s recovery challenge. It was a soft foul but an infringement nonetheless and the referee had no choice but to produce a red card too, leaving us with a numerical disadvantage for the remaining 75 minutes.
It almost got worse from the free-kick that followed but Antony Evans first fired straight into the wall and then missed the target when the loose ball rebounded into his path. Edwards’s side were still finding pockets of space in which to play and a drive from midfield earned a set-piece shooting opportunity of their own, though Gallagher matched Evans in failing to beat the wall.
The Toffees traditionally stay strong at this age group, winning the inaugural Premier League 2 title in 2017 and challenging strongly once again this term. Sambou fired a warning from them midway through the half, showing strength to hold off a series of challenges before getting away a shot that deflected behind.
It proved a caution that went unheeded as the hosts opened the scoring with 26 minutes on the clock. A long diagonal from right-back Evans found Hornby far too easily and the Scotland Under-21 striker finished neatly across Cumming into the bottom corner.
A goal and a man in the deficit, the challenge ahead looked a tough one but the visitors showed strong character to keep playing and retained an attacking threat. Wakefield and Gallagher combined promisingly down the right, teeing up Anjorin for a shot at goal that Joao Virginia needed to push behind with a smart low save. The 17-year-old caused further problems in the box with quick feet and quick thinking moments later, though his centre towards Redan was headed behind by the alert Con Ouzounidis.
Down the other end, Everton still looked dangerous themselves and the second goal was always likely to prove significant. Cumming kept it at 1-0 with a brave save at the feet of Hornby before Harry Charsley’s drive whistled wide following an enterprising move down the left flank.
Patient play continued to bring progress and Gilmour tested Virginia again before the break, collecting a pass from Gallagher just inside the 18-yard box and firing quickly at goal, though the Portuguese keeper did enough to gather at the second attempt.
Our record away at Everton had produced just one victory in the previous six visits, highlighting the difficult task at hand. However, the 10 men restarted positively and on the front foot, with Anjorin volleying wide on the spin and then thwarted by Ouzounidis as the defender threw himself in front of the 17-year-old’s strike.
Unsworth’s men had conceded just eight times in their 14 PL2 games this term and they continued to display all the defensive traits that have earned them the meanest defence in the league, blocking shots and heading clear on each occasion as the Chelsea corner count went into double figures. It was another block that denied Redan after an hour, the Dutchman latching on to Maatsen’s cross but unable to test Virginia from eight yards out.
Edwards introduced Taylor-Crossdale 20 minutes into the second period and the substitute striker had a chance to level with his first touch. McEachran’s driving run pierced the heart of Everton’s defence and the midfielder’s clever touch played Taylor-Crossdale one-on-one, though the keeper did enough to smother at his feet.
Making first contact from inswinging corners was proving difficult but second balls on the edge of the box could be exploited and Maatsen latched on to one such loose ball after 70 minutes. The teenager’s low effort was well-struck but heading wide until Anjorin’s intervention to poke it towards the target, though he also failed to trouble Virginia.
The points were sealed with 15 minutes remaining after Colley was penalised for a clumsy foul in the box against Hornby, giving Sambou the chance to send Cumming the wrong way from 12 yards.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Jamie Cumming; Joseph Colley, Richard Nartey (c), Marc Guehi; Charlie Wakefield (Marcel Lavinier 80), George McEachran, Billy Gilmour, Ian Maatsen; Conor Gallagher, Tino Anjorin (Charlie Brown 80); Daishawn Redan (Martell Taylor-Crossdale 66)
Unused subs Karlo Ziger
Sent off Nartey 15
Everton Joao Virginia, Antony Evans, Lewis Gibson, Ryan Astley, Con Ouzounidis, Morgan Feeney (c), Harry Charsley (Josh Bowler 84), Dennis Adeniran, Fraser Hornby (Alex Denny 75), Nathan Broadhead (Nathangelo Markelo 61), Bassala Sambou
Unused subs Mateusz Hewelt, Anthony Gordon
Scorers Hornby 26; Sambou (pen) 75
Referee Mr M Wood