Chelsea's development squad battled from behind to take two points from this evening's EFL Trophy tie at Walsall after penalties decided the final result.
A young Chelsea side were worked hard for their points in Walsall this evening. After a quiet first half when Thierno Ballo had our only meaningful chance, Andy Myers's team were still in the game but were dealt a blow less than 10 minutes after the restart when Wes McDonald hit home for the opener.
Changes were made and the Blues looked re-energised. With just 21 minutes left to play captain Dynel Simeu poked home from a corner-kick and we were back on level terms, which gave us every chance of securing at least a point. The winner wasn't to be found in normal time however, and it was a penalty shoot-out which handed us an extra point, making the group stage table read better for Chelsea.
Lucas Bergstrom got a strong hand Walsall's first kick and Ian Maatsen scored the deciding penalty as the Blues won 3-5 after the spot-kicks.
The young Blues
Myers named five changes from the side that started at Brighton on Friday night. Bergstrom was back between the sticks, George McEachran returned to the centre, Henry Lawrence was back in familiar right-back settings and Levi Colwill started at centre-back. Meanwhile George Nunn was handed his first start of the season and led the attack.
On a busy night for Chelsea, our development squad took their game to the West Midlands where Walsall were between us and our first win in the EFL Trophy this season. After a hard-fought opening 10 minutes it was clear to see this evening’s battle would be a physical one. Tall forward Elijah Adebayo had the first two chances of the game, one which forced Bergstrom into a save and the other cleared the target comfortably.
Adebayo’s partner, Emmanuel Osadebe, was next to try his luck - he pounced upon a misplaced Chelsea pass and tried to punish us from distance. Luckily the attempt posed no danger to the score line.
Growing into the game
After a quarter-of-an-hour it was Chelsea’s turn to attack and a glimpse of quality almost broke the deadlock. Ballo had the ball on the left and combined nicely with Nunn to beat the Walsall defenders – a first-time shot followed and Jack Rose had to dive low to his left to keep the ball out.
Most of our joy was coming from that left side and after Ballo fizzed a tempting ball across the face of goal, Maatsen could’ve finished off a slick Chelsea attack. He was in acres of space and advanced into the box, the option to shoot was there but he chose to cross and the hosts mopped-up any loose balls.
As Chelsea grew in confidence our attacks looked more potent but committing more men forward gave Walsall the chance to counter. McDonald had looked lively all evening and Bergstrom had to parry wide from his low drive. Moments later Adebayo again headed wide of the target and we ended the half level.
After a fairly even restart Walsall took the lead through danger-man McDonald. A one-two created a yard of space for the winger who cut on to his right foot and tucked the ball away for the night’s opener.
Following the goal our hosts kept the ball well and almost nicked a second. Adebayo was slotted through on goal with just Bergstrom to beat. The keeper won the battle and blocked the shot with a strong right leg.
Back in the game
Nunn’s evening had ended after 65 minutes, with forward Bryan Fiabema his replacement Chelsea were in the hunt for a goal. Midfielder Harvey Vale was also introduced only two minutes later, but it was a defender who got us back into the game moments after the switch.
The Chelsea breakthrough came through an unlikely source in Simeu, who prodded home from a corner-kick for his first goal at this level – he had met the initial cross but it was blocked back into his path. Twenty-one minutes remained as we drew level.
Both teams were searching for the winner as we entered the final 10 minutes, Cameron Norman made Bergstrom work as a deep cross fell nicely for the full-back. Luckily our keeper’s hands were strong in stopping the attack.
Dion Rankine for Tino Livramento was our last change as Myers looked to inject some more energy into his team as the game wore on. Maatsen flashed a shot inches wide of the far post for the final kick of the 90 minutes and it was a point each. Penalties would decide the winner of the match with an extra point to play for.
Russell got the spot kicks underway and tucked the ball away nicely before Bergstrom got a strong left hand to Norman’s low drive. It had been a good night for our young keeper who gave a solid account of himself.
Fiabema and Rory Holden were next up and both beat the respective stoppers, as did Ballo for Chelsea and Adebayo for Walsall. The young Blues had a 3-2 lead at this point.
Captain and goal scorer Simeu was up next and he confidently dispatched his penalty before substitute Caolan Lavery sent Bergstrom the wrong way. The deciding penalty was left to Maatsen who powerfully secured the extra point on the night for Chelsea.
Arsenal are visitors at Kingsmeadow on Sunday afternoon. Kick-off is 12 noon.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Lucas Bergstrom; Henry Lawrence, Dynel Simeu (c), Levi Colwill, Ian Maatsen; George McEachran, Jon Russell; Tino Livramento (Dion Rankine 87), Myles Peart-Harris (Harvey Vale 67), Thierno Ballo; George Nunn (Bryan Fiabema 65)
Unused subs Jack Wakely, Karlo Ziger, Marcel Lewis, Lewis Bate
Scorer Simeu 69
Booked Nunn 33
Penalties Russell (scored), Fiabema (scored), Ballo (scored), Simeu (scored), Maatsen (scored)
Walsall Jack Rose, Cameron Norman, Mat Sadler (c), Elijah Adebayo, Alfie Bates, Wes McDonald, Danny Guthrie (Stuart Sinclair 56), Jack Nolan (Rory Holden 56), George Nurse, Emmanuel Osadebe (Caolan Lavery 72)
Unused subs Liam Roberts, James Clarke, Josh Gordon, Hayden White
Scorer McDonald 53
Booked Nurse 31
Penalties Norman (missed), Holden (scored), Adebayo (scored), Lavery (scored)
Referee Brett Huxtable