Our development squad won a hard-fought three points in Premier League 2 as they battled throughout the 90 minutes on a cold winter’s night in Derbyshire.
Conor Gallagher’s goal moments before half-time proved the difference between the two sides, though the victory also owed much to hard graft and a defensive resilience from front to back. The win takes us up one place in the league standings into fifth.
There were four changes from our last league outing as injuries restricted the options available to manager Joe Edwards, ruling out Richard Nartey, Billy Gilmour and Tino Anjorin. Ethan Ampadu came into the side at the heart a three-man central defensive unit, flanked by captain Marc Guehi and Joseph Colley, while Jamie Cumming continued in goal.
The Dutch duo of Juan Castillo and Ian Maatsen operated as wing-backs in Edwards’s preferred 3-5-2 system, with Gallagher joined by George McEachran and Tariq Uwakwe in central midfield. Daishawn Redan and Charlie Brown led the line up front as the Blues looked to end a run of three consecutive PL2 defeats stretching back to the first week of December.
The contest started evenly in the East Midlands, both sides exchanging set-piece opportunities inside the opening 10 minutes but unable to trouble the opposing goalkeeper. Gallagher had a chance to test Josh Barnes with a central free-kick 25 yards out but opted to drift in a floated delivery that just evaded the jumping Ampadu.
Cumming was the first made to work between the sticks, reacting and dropping quickly to keep out a close-range effort, before a bouncing ball dropped invitingly for Uwakwe to strike straight into the gloves of the home goalkeeper.
A fast-paced and competitive encounter was taking place in the middle of the pitch, though it was the Rams who fashioned the next big opportunity midway through the half. Max Hunt rose highest to get on the end of a free-kick and divert it into the path of Josh Shonibare, whose initial effort was blocked and the ensuing goalmouth scramble eventually thwarted by Cumming.
Uwakwe’s return from an injury layoff was proving a timely one and the 19-year-old remained at the heart of our attacking endeavours. Immediately after Shonibare’s chance, the visitors raced down the other end to threaten with their best move of the match to date as Maatsen was played in on the right and delivered for Uwakwe, who was denied bravely by Barnes.
Chances continued to come readily in an entertaining match and Louie Sibley fired a warning with a rising strike narrowly over the crossbar before Cameron Cresswell spurned a glorious chance to break the deadlock. Cumming was almost the architect of his own downfall as he miskicked the ball straight out to the Derby striker with his standing foot, though accuracy was lacking in the finish and the Blues breathed a sigh of relief.
After a period of Derby pressure around the half hour mark, it was suddenly the visitors in the ascendancy in the final period before the break. Gallagher retrieved possession and fed Brown, who fired just over, before Redan’s volley was saved after McEachran stole the ball upfield.
Yet the breakthrough soon arrived as the Blues pressed home their control in the contest. Gallagher had spurned a good chance moments earlier but was not to be denied for a second time and finished expertly into the top corner, with Castillo claiming the assist with a cross from the left.
It was perfect timing for Edwards’s boys and gave them an advantage to protect in the second 45 minutes, along with the platform to play on the counter-attack. A burst on the break almost fashioned our second goal early after the restart as Gallagher got things going from deep and McEachran advanced down the right flank before picking out Redan in the middle. The teenage striker made good contact but Barnes was equal to the effort, producing an excellent save to keep the deficit at one.
The Derby threat increased steadily as the half wore on and the temperature dropped further under a clear sky at the Rams training ground. Jayden Mitchell-Lawson scuffed a shot straight at Cumming, while our goalkeeper was positioned perfectly again moments later to hold on to Alex Babos’s free-kick.
It was inevitable that the visitors would drop deeper as Darren Wassall’s side pushed for a leveller, though our application to put pressure on the ball and defend the box could not be faulted. A jinking run from Calum MacDonald, the full-back, almost opened the door as he burst into the box but Ampadu was in the way with a super block.
Down the other end, the hard-working Brown got on the end of a quick break forward, teed up by McEachran’s clever reverse pass, but the unfavourable angle proved too difficult for the forward to master and Barnes flung out a strong hand to paw the ball from danger.
Five minutes of added time indicated by the fourth official brought the nerves to a crescendo at the death and it took a huge effort for the Blues to keep their clean sheet intact. Barnes had performed capably in his own box to prevent us from adding further goals and he almost came up with the unlikeliest of equalisers when he sprinted forward for a late set-piece, though the ball spun off the keeper and narrowly wide of Cumming’s upright.
That ensured the points were coming back to the capital as Edwards’s side collected their first win of 2019 and closed the gap to second place to three points.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Jamie Cumming; Joseph Colley, Ethan Ampadu, Marc Guehi; Ian Maatsen, Conor Gallagher, George McEachran, Tariq Uwakwe (Clinton Mola 73), Juan Castillo; Daishawn Redan, Charlie Brown (George Nunn 90+5)
Unused subs Karlo Ziger, Marcel Lavinier, Henry Lawrence
Scorer Gallagher 44
Derby County Josh Barnes, Kellan Gordon, Calum MacDonald, Max Bird, Joe Bateman, Max Hunt, Jayden Mitchell-Lawson, Louie Sibley, Cameron Cresswell, Alex Babos (Aaron Eyoma 82), Josh Shonibare (Tyree Wilson 67)
Unused subs Aaron Eyoma, Matthew Yates, Fuseine Rashid, Sven Karic