There was a devastating defeat for our development squad in the final group game of this season's EFL Trophy at Bristol Rovers on Wednesday night.
In an action-packed game from the first whistle, these two teams provided plenty of drama during a seven-goal thriller in which our youngsters had the chance to take the game to penalties snatched from their grasp with just seconds to spare.
Tino Anjorin struck after 11 minutes to level the scoreline but Bristol Rovers reclaimed their lead just four mintues later and held out until the break. Soon after the restart, it was 3-1 to the hosts and seemingly game over but the resilient Chlelsea had other ideas.
Marcel Lewis struck first to give his team a glimmer of hope before Henry Lawrence's shot found the the net via Anjorin's back and we were level with plenty of time left to find a winner.
Lewis Bate came closest to finding the all-important goal but the woodwork denied him before Rovers went one better and clinched the winning goal in the final minute of normal time.
The young Blues
Andy Myers made three changes from the Premier League 2 defeat at Everton last time out. In came Charlie Brown and Billy Gilmour for their first development squad starts of the season, while Myles Peart-Harris occupied the wide right. Bate and Thierno Ballo dropped to the bench, while Baba Rahman was away on international duty with Ghana.
A win of any kind for either side would secure progression from the group stage, joining Oxford United in the knockouts.
Rovers take an early lead
The heavy rain in Bristol had ceased long before kick-off and provided excellent playing conditions for the first-half battle. Even if the temperature was dropping with every passing minute, it wasn't too long before there was some action to warm to.
It was an aggresive opening 10 minutes from both teams but Bristol Rovers should’ve first taken the lead through Sam Nicholson who snatched at Josh Hare’s low centre, firing wide of the target from six yards.
Three minutes later Brandon Hanlan would have the next chance for the home side, and after a lengthy run from his own half into the box we were defending, the forward tried his luck and found the net for the opener. Following the blow there were calls from the young Blues to right their wrongs and that they did within seconds.
Immediate Chelsea response
There was barely any time for either side to digest the opening goal as Chelsea found an equaliser from their first attack following the restart.
It was our two Tinos who linked up on the right, Livramento finding the run of Anjorin who neatly slotted the ball through the legs of Jodi Van Stappershoef. Exactly what the Blues called for after a disappointing start.
Hosts regain the lead
It was a breathtaking opening quarter with two quick-fire goals, but the drama and action was nowhere near finished. Our hosts regained their lead, this time through Nicholson who made sure to find the target from close range this time, after Karlo Ziger could only parry a shot from distance back into the danger area where the Rovers man lurked.
Behind at the break
The game eventually settled after the flurry of goals but Chelsea were disappointed to have entered the break trailing. Danny Drinkwater did well to find the wide run of Lawrence and the full-back sent a low cross into the box beyond all home bodies. Brown waited in the centre but couldn’t connect with the ball for what would’ve been a certain goal.
George Nunn was introduced at half-time in place of Brown as Myers’s men searched for a second equalising goal of the evening. Rovers made a change of their own during the interval, former Chelsea Academy youngster Zain Westbrooke coming on in midfield.
Fifteen minutes after his introduction, Westbrooke was on the scoresheet as his free-kick from wide on the left evaded all and looped in at the back post, stretching his team's lead to 3-1 and almost out of reach of our youngsters.
Back within touching distance
As we have seen many times before with Myers’s development squad, they are prepared to fight until the final whistle no matter the circumstances and that was no more evident than in the 63rd minute when Lewis powerfully finished off a good attacking sequence with a goal.
Lawrence combined well with his midfielders on the left and delivered the ball into the centre where Rovers could only partially clear. Lewis was first to react and smashed the ball home on the volley to make the score 3-2, bringing Chelsea back into the game.
Fortunate but deserved third
Chelsea had turned the game on its head and the hosts looked unable to deal with our rapid offensive threat. Lawrence continued to enjoy space on the left and this time cut on to his favoured right foot to take aim at goal. His shot looked to be on target but a deflection off Anjorin’s back sent the ball into the back of the net, Van Stappershoef given no chance. Anjorin was unaware of his contribution until his team-mates crowded him in celebration and we were level again at 3-3.
All to play for in the final quarter
With the score level as we entered the dying moments, it was still all to play for and both teams had their goalkeepers to thank for producing wonder saves which kept the tie alive. The first was from the Rovers keeper who denied Lewis an evening’s brace after the midfielder skilfully worked his way into the box and took aim.
The second was from Ziger who reacted quickly to get a strong hand to Nicholson’s drive after he beat the offside trap and advanced on goal with only our stopper to beat.
It was end-to-end but Chelsea looked to be edging closer to taking the lead for the first time on the night. Newly-introduced Bate tried his luck from distance after shrugging off two defenders, his whipped effort clipping the inside of the post and agonisingly rolling away from danger. At this point penalties looked likely but for a late blow to sink our men to defeat.
Our second-half efforts deserved more but a devastating last-minute winner came for the Gas through Hare, who headed home from close range. That goal sealed the three points which propelled them into a qualification position and eliminated Chelsea from the competition.
Myers’ men are next in action on Sunday afternoon when they face Manchester City in Premier League 2 action. You can watch every kick live and for free on the 5th Stand app or on this website from 1pm.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Karlo Ziger, Tino Livramento, Dynel Simeu (c), Levi Colwill, Henry Lawrence; Billy Gilmour (Lewis Bate 60), Danny Drinkwater; Myles Peart-Harris, Tino Anjorin, Marcel Lewis; Charlie Brown (George Nunn ht)
Unused subs Lucas Bergstrom, Pierre Ekwah-Elimby, Thierno Ballo, Dion Rankine, Bryan Fiabema
Scorer Anjorin 11, 68; Lewis 63
Bristol Rovers Jordi Van Stappershoef, Josh Grant, Max Ehmer, Ed Upson, Brandon Hanlan, Sam Nicholson, Alfie Kilgour, James Daly (Zain Westbrooke ht), David Tutonda (Luke Leahy 62), Josh Hare, Cian Harries
Unused subs Liam Armstrong, Ben Liddle, Cam Hargreaves, Zain Walker, Josh Barrett
Booked Kilgour 61; Grant 88
Scorer Hanlan 10; Nicholson 15; Westbrooke 58