Our development squad fell to defeat in their first match action of 2019, beaten by a battling Blackburn Rovers at Aldershot.
A difficult first half saw the visitors enjoy more possession and create the clearest chances, regularly testing goalkeeper Jamie Cumming and putting pressure on our three-man central defensive unit. The only goal of the game came from the penalty spot three minutes before the interval as Marc Guehi was penalised for a trip on Stefan Mols, handing Joe Nuttall the opportunity to find the net from 12 yards.
Though improved in the second half, the Blues still failed to find the comeback goal and so stay fifth in the table after 14 matches of their 22-game PL2 campaign.
Manager Joe Edwards was able to recall the services of four players who missed our last PL2 outing before Christmas due to their involvement in the FA Youth Cup. Tariq Lamptey, Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin and Daishawn Redan all returned to the starting 11 as the Blues looked for a winning start to the New Year.
Redan spearheaded the attack supported by a central midfield trio of Conor Gallagher, Gilmour and Anjorin, while George McEachran continued in his role as deep-lying playmaker. Joseph Colley, Josh Grant and Guehi lined up across the back three in front of Cumming between the sticks, while Juan Castillo and Lamptey started at wing-back.
Rovers began the weekend in the Division 1 relegation zone but back-to-back victories before the festive break had provided momentum and confidence to Damien Johnson’s side. They made a positive start on a cold day at Aldershot, pressing intensely and tackling hard, using their extra physicality to take control of proceedings early on.
The subsequent defensive tests were answered well by the hosts as Grant blocked bravely at the feet of Nuttall, the striker with 35 senior appearances to his name, before Cumming made a smart save with his feet from the Rovers number nine.
Nuttall bagged 14 goals last term as Blackburn were promoted from the second tier as league winners and the 21-year-old continued to carry the biggest threat for the visitors, firing narrowly wide of Cumming’s left upright after 12 minutes. His turn of pace then caused danger in the 18-yard box as he advanced away from Guehi but Grant was on hand once again to clear the loose ball to safety.
Exploiting space in behind on the break was our best chance to hurt Rovers in the early stages and Lamptey’s pace provided a useful outlet. The wing-back advanced dangerously as the Blues broke forward from defending a corner but was marshalled expertly by the covering John Buckley.
Blackburn continued to enjoy more of the ball and were able to use it to fashion frequent sights at goal. Cumming denied Buckley’s bouncing effort and Colley made a crucial intervention to deflect Mols’s shot behind before the Lancastrians rattled the woodwork midway through the first half. Mols picked up possession on the right and moved towards goal unchallenged before striking against the near post.
It was a warning for Edwards’s side and the contest then started to open up for the first time. Our first intricate passing move of the match came on the half-hour mark as Guehi stepped in to win the ball on halfway and drove forward to tee up a chance for Anjorin, though the 17-year-old’s strike was well blocked by Tyler Magloire, the Blackburn captain.
Ollie Byrne in the visitors’ goal was then tested as Lamptey skipped infield with pace and purpose, moving easily away from the challenge of Matthew Platt, though a left-footed effort was too close to the keeper, who pushed the ball behind.
Blackburn continued to push and went closer still eight minutes before the break. Cumming dived down to his right to keep out a decent strike from Brad Lyons before Nuttall’s header from the resulting corner was cleared off the line, on to the underside of the crossbar and eventually away.
However, there was no reprieve for the Blues moments later as they fell behind after 42 minutes. Lyons attacked down the left and made a smart run with the ball across Guehi, the retreating defender, who clipped the wideman’s heels as he chased back. The referee had no choice but to give a penalty and Nuttall stepped up to side-foot a confident finish beyond Cumming’s dive.
It left the Blues trailing at the interval and disappointed with their first-half showing, unable to create chances against a competitive opponent. The restart was better for the hosts as Anjorin saw two efforts blocked in quick succession, the latter following an inviting delivery from the left by Castillo.
Down the other end, Charley Doyle escaped unchecked into the box and fizzed the ball across the face of goal, forcing Colley to intervene. It looked for a moment like the Swedish defender would put the ball into his own net but Cumming reacted quickly enough to claim the loose ball as it diverted towards him.
Edwards had clearly instructed his side to push further up the field and they finally started to dictate the game in the Blackburn half. Anjorin and Gilmour were collecting the ball in more advanced pockets of space, the latter working Byrne with a first-time drive across goal.
Yet Rovers quickly found solutions to stem the Chelsea momentum, congesting the middle of the pitch and working hard without the ball. Doyle went close to doubling their lead with a quarter of the league encounter remaining, though his effort lacked in precision what it carried in power.
The hosts looked to their bench for a means to change their fortunes in the final 15 minutes, introducing Martell Taylor-Crossdale and Charlie Brown in attack. Guehi tried to make a difference in the opposition box, stretching to meet Gallagher’s deep and dangerous inswinging free-kick, but the defender got too much purchase on his header.
As the Blues took risks to find a late goal, just like they had in their previous two home fixtures, there were inevitably opportunities for Blackburn to seal the victory. Nuttall looked set to do just that from the left with 12 minutes remaining, though Cumming was equal to his effort and flung out a strong hand to deny the striker at his near post.
Grant blocked a speculative effort from Nuttall as the minutes ebbed away, leaving the Blues with two more chances to claim a draw. Taylor-Crossdale had the first, latching on to McEachran’s pass after Anjorin had stolen the ball and curling promisingly towards the bottom corner, though Byrne proved alert and pushed the strike away.
There was one last sight at goal in stoppage time, Brown winning a free-kick centrally 20 yards from goal, but Gallagher couldn’t beat the jumping wall and Blackburn’s resistance held out. Our development squad return to action in the Checkatrade Trophy last-16 at Stamford Bridge against League One Peterborough United this Wednesday 9 January. Tickets remain on sale priced at just £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Chelsea (5-4-1) Jamie Cumming; Tariq Lamptey (Richard Nartey 81), Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi, Josh Grant (c), Juan Castillo; George McEachran, Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour (Charlie Brown 72), Tino Anjorin; Daishawn Redan (Martell Taylor-Crossdale 72)
Unused subs, Jake Askew, Renedi Masampu
Booked Gallagher, Lamptey
Blackburn Rovers Ollie Byrne, Matthew Platt, Lewis Thompson, Charley Doyle, Tyler Magloire (c), Joe Grayson, Hayden Carter, John Buckley, Joe Nuttall, Stefan Mols, Brad Lyons
Unused subs Okera Simmonds, Ben Winterbottom, Joe Rankine-Costello, Ben Paton, Jack Vale
Scorer Nuttall (pen) 43
Booked Magloire, Lyons, Nuttall, Carter
Referee Gary Parsons