Ruben Loftus-Cheek played the full 90 minutes of tonight’s PL2 match at Aldershot, in which Chelsea beat Everton 1-0, and won the penalty which was dispatched by Luke McCormick to maintain the development squad’s three-point lead at the top of the table.
It was another major step in the latter stages of his return to full match fitness with the prospect of action for our senior side in the closing months of the season. The 24-year-old was involved throughout tonight, showing some flashes of his skills in midfield and he was in the penalty area late on for what proved to be the decisive moment against an Everton side who were hard to break down.
There was a late moment of concern when Loftus-Cheek was chopped down by a challenge that earned an opponent a yellow card but after treatment he was on his feet to complete the game.
Everton, playing five men strung in a line across midfield, had 10 players behind the ball for almost the whole game, posing a stiff challenge to Chelsea to try to break them down. It was a task we faced without any of our three topscorers for the development squad this season.
The side picked by Andy Myers for tonight’s game showed five changes from the win against Arsenal in the previous outing. Injury played a part in the case of Levi Colwill, who was carried off in last week’s FA Youth Cup win.
The breakthrough did not come in an uneventful first half.
McCormick skimmed a low shot across the turf and into the Everton keeper’s arms inside the first 10 minutes in one of the rare shots on target.
Loftus-Cheek, who ruptured an Achilles tendon back in May, had played an hour in a training ground match for the development squad against Brentford B a month ago and been an unused sub in recent games for Frank Lampard’s side. Tonight he played in the no.10 role and early on attempted to give Tariq Uwakwe a shooting opportunity but the winger was crowded out by Everton midway through the half.
With his first shot of the game, Loftus-Cheek won a corner when it deflected off a defender. Uwakwe met Henry Lawrence’s delivery but on the stretch, could not direct the header on target.
Uwakwe and Loftus-Cheek continued to be players involved in Chelsea’s most promising attacks but when they moved the ball quickly to the edge of the penalty area just before half-time, McCormick skied his shot. Ian Maatsen, who had joined an attack, screwed a low shot wide not long after.
Everton were restricted to a couple of testing deliveries and one ball across the face of the Chelsea goal when it came to first-half attacks, whereas many of our moves had broken down on the edge of their area where the Toffee wall had been built.
Uwakwe, supplied by a neat piece of skill by tonight’s centre-forward, Thierno Ballo, warmed the hands of Harry Tyrer in the Everton goal early in the second half, and there was a claim for handball when a McCormick cross was blocked. The appeal was turned down but it did lead to a corner and to a powerful Uwakwe volley which looked goalbound until it hit a defender.
Suddenly, and in contrast to the first half, the Everton goal was leading a charmed life.
Jon Russell somehow did not bundle the ball in from close range after a goalmouth scramble and another Uwakwe shot was saved.
Bryan Fiabema, the Norwegian 17-year-old who joined last month, came on up front for the final half-hour and his Under-23s debut. However it was Uwakwe again testing the keeper soon after with a free-kick.
It could have been Loftus-Cheek with the winner with quarter-of-an-hour to go when he met Maatsen’s corner at the near post but his powerful header went the wrong side of the upright.
Tino Livramento came on and looked lively out wide but the winning goal was to come from the penalty spot after Everton captain Beni Baningime barged Loftus-Cheek in the back as he shielded the ball.
McCormick’s 83rd-minute penalty was emphatically blasted into the back of the net. The scorer came closest to adding a second goal with an open-play effort but his spot-kick proved enough for victory and a cushion at the top of the table with four PL2 fixtures remaining.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Jamie Cumming; Henry Lawrence, Dynel Simeu, Jack Wakely, Ian Maatsen (c); Lewis Bate, Jon Russell (Tino Livramento 73); Luke McCormick, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tariq Uwakwe; Thierno Ballo (Bryan Fiabema 62).
Unused sub Nicolas Tie, Sam McCelland, Xavier Simons.
Scorer McCormick 83 pen
Everton (4-5-1): Tryer; Astley (Onyango 87), Ouzounidis, Branthwaite, Foulds; John, Iversen (Mampala 84), Markelo, Baningime (c), Adeniran; Simms.
Unused subs Benny, Hansen, Anderson
Booked Markelo 86, Foulds 89