Our development squad endured another frustrating evening at home in Premier League 2 as they were beaten by Swansea City in an eventful contest at Aldershot.
Keston Davies opened the scoring inside 10 minutes with a smart header from a set-piece as Joe Edwards’s side struggled to get going during a difficult first half. There were improvements after the break in our general play but little in the way of genuine goalscoring chances and an injury to Jamie Cumming, our goalkeeper, after three substitutions had been made meant we played the final 10 minutes with Richard Nartey in goal.
That frailty was quickly exposed as Liam Cullen took aim from the edge of the area and doubled the lead with two minutes of normal time remaining. The result leaves us fifth in the league table.
Edwards made three changes from our impressive hard-fought win at Derby 11 days previously with the strike pair of Ike Ugbo and Martell Taylor-Crossdale drafted into the side along with captain Nartey, returning from suspension.
It was 3-5-2 again for the Blues as Ethan Ampadu moved into midfield and Nartey was joined by Joseph Colley and Marc Guehi in a central defensive unit protecting Jamie Cumming’s goal. The Dutch duo of Ian Maatsen and Juan Castillo continued in the wing-back positions, while Conor Gallagher and Tariq Uwakwe operated as the more advanced midfield options.
Swansea made the trip down the M4 in the knowledge that points were at a premium in their battle for survival in the PL2 top tier. Cut adrift seven points from safety, the pressure was on them to perform. However, it was Chelsea who started most positively under the lights in Hampshire, winning two corners within the opening three minutes, albeit without unduly troubling Steven Benda, the away side’s goalkeeper.
Yet the hosts were soon experiencing that familiar feeling of falling behind as they conceded first at home for the eighth time in nine league games this term. It was a soft one to give away from Swansea’s first venture forward of the evening, Davies rising to meet a delivery from the right after a corner had been played short and looping a header over Cumming’s despairing dive.
The goal hit the confidence of Edwards’s side and it took them time to reassert their authority in the contest. Meanwhile, the Swans sought to take advantage and Cumming had to show his reflexes when reacting to a low cross from the left, diverted towards goal by Nartey’s intervention and requiring a smart save behind.
Down the other end, Benda intervened to punch away Uwakwe’s centre but then got caught stranded while chasing the loose ball, allowing Gallagher the opportunity to shoot at an unguarded goal. The 19-year-old made good contact with his clipped effort and the ball was floating in but for the headed clearance of Joe Lewis on the goal-line.
These two sides played out a tight encounter when they met in south Wales back in September and Swansea’s performances since then have tended to belie their precarious position in the table. They grew in threat as the half wore on, playing direct to the forward players and finding pockets of space when picking up second balls.
Keiran Evans fired a warning shot high over the crossbar after 20 minutes before Cullen went closer with a low effort drilled across the face of goal. Our best move of the half fashioned a sight at goal for Ugbo moments later, the 20-year-old latching on to a clever pass forward from Maatsen moving infield from the right wing, though the striker could only ripple the side-netting.
The Welshmen continued to expose frailties in our defensive shape and ought to have doubled the deficit before half-time. Cullen was gifted a chance 10 minutes before the break when he capitalised on a short back pass but the angle proved too tight and Cumming got in the way. Adnan Maric then got in after a neat passage of play but fired wide of the target.
Edwards made a change at the break, swapping Ampadu for George McEachran in a pre-planned withdrawal that aimed to push the visitors back and search out an equaliser. It worked in handing the Blues more possession and they soon began to turn that into an attacking threat, though there remained an absence of sharpness from the hosts in the final third.
Castillo created a good opportunity from the left flank as the hour mark approached, latching on to a lofted pass before whipping in a dangerous delivery that flashed just in front of Taylor-Crossdale in the middle.
Swansea’s game plan slowly shifted to a more counter-attacking approach and one such burst forward after 64 minutes almost paid dividends but for some good defending on the cover. Edwards tinkered again from the touchline, introducing Tariq Lamptey and Daishawn Redan in a change that saw the system switch to 4-3-3.
Uwakwe’s more central position had an instant effect as the midfielder found time and space to collect the ball and take aim at goal, his fierce strike deflected and well held by Benda at the near post. The hosts still had slim hopes of launching a late push for the title coming into this game but they knew they would have to achieve a near-perfect record in the final six games to make that a reality.
As the clock ticked on, the Welsh side remained assured and still continued to fashion chances of their own. Maric managed to escape into space in the box from a throw-in and fired a volley towards the top corner that whistled just over.
Our efforts to overturn the deficit were dealt an unfortunate blow with 10 minutes remaining as Cumming dived bravely at the feet of a forward and picked up an injury to his hand in the process. With all three changes made, goalkeeping responsibilities were taken on by Nartey, who donned the unfamiliar gloves to marshal between the sticks for the remainder of the action.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to expose the glaring weakness within the Chelsea ranks as we surrendered possession too easily in our own half and allowed Cullen to fire into the corner of the net from the edge of the box.
That goal effectively ended the contest but there was still time remaining in seven minutes added on for the Swans to lose a man of their own as Matthew Blake picked up a second booking for a late foul.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Jamie Cumming; Joseph Colley, Richard Nartey (c), Marc Guehi; Ian Maatsen, Conor Gallagher, Ethan Ampadu, Tariq Uwakwe, Juan Castillo; Ike Ugbo (Daishawn Redan 65), Martell Taylor-Crossdale (Tariq Lamptey 65)
Unused subs Nicolas Tie, Charlie Brown
Booked Gallagher, Nartey, Lamptey
Swansea City Steven Benda, Joe Lewis, Matthew Blake, Kees de Boer, Keston Davies (c), Ben Cabango, Adnan Maric, Adam King, Liam Cullen, Oliver Cooper, Keiran Evans (Simon Paulet 90+2)
Unused subs Nathan Shepperd, Tom Price, Mason Jones-Thomas, Jack Withers
Scorers Davies 7; Cullen 88
Booked Cabango, Blake, Davies, De Boer
Sent off Blake 89
Referee Tom Reeves