Chelsea are through to the next round of the Papa John's Trophy with a game to spare after a well-deserved 2-1 victory at the Memorial Stadium in which an own goal and a Lewis Baker strike were enough to see off the Pirates.
Lewis Baker's decisive finish after a smart corner was enough to take all three points in Bristol. Despite a positive start, we conceded first to a Luke Thomas strike from outside the box, the midfielder proving the home side's biggest and only threat all night.
However, despite being the younger, less experienced side, the young Blues dominated the remainder of proceedings with some silky combinations and innovative play. An own goal from Niall Lovelock under pressure from Jayden Wareham gave us the equaliser just before the break. Immediately after half-time, a well-taken corner from George McEachran was finished well by Baker, which ultimately proved to be the decisive goal.
The team selected by boss Andy Myers featured some players who were involved in the recent 1-0 PL2 defeat at Cobham to Blackburn Rovers as the likes of Josh Brooking, Xavier Mbuyamba and George Nunn started the game.
There were also a number of players missing due to the international break, which meant starts for goalkeeper Ethan Wady, Dion Rankine and Wareham in attack. We did see a formation switch however from that game, with Myers reverting to a 3-4-3 system from the 4-2-3-1.
Bright start unrewarded
Rankine, who was bright throughout the game, after some neat work down the right played a delightful ball to the back post. His cross was controlled and volleyed well by Nunn, although a great save by the Grecians shot-stopper Jed Ward prevented a one-nil lead.
The biggest opportunity of the opening 10 minutes fell to the lively Wareham. After a lovely through ball was played by George McEachran, Wareham found himself with only the keeper to beat. However, his subsequent attempt to round Ward led to him mis-controlling the ball and it going behind harmlessly for a goal kick.
Thomas was Rovers’ biggest threat and, in the 11th minute of the game, his darting run and reverse ball to captain Zain Westbrooke was saved well by Chelsea keeper Wady. Yet after that prior warning of Thomas’s threat, the winger found himself on the edge of the box and a well-placed strike soon gave the home side an early advantage.
Working for the leveller
After Josh Brooking’s words for the preview to this game, it was impressive to see our boys control the rest of the half and not decrease the intensity. Following a couple of half-chances from Joe Haigh and Wareham, the Blues deservedly equalised.
Rankine again found himself isolated with his opponent and, after finding a yard, he drilled a shot across the face of goal. With Wareham lurking, his shot ricocheted off defender Lovelock to send the ball into the net.
The west London side maintained our attacking intensity and, after a well worked move, Xavier Simons fired a goal-bound left footed shot which was saved exceptionally by the Rovers keeper.
We began the second half as we had ended the first, with Baker stinging the gloves of the busy Rovers keeper, before the resulting corner led to our second goal of the game. McEachran drilled a delightful ball towards the penalty spot and coming round the back of the pack was Baker, who side-footed home to give us a 2-1 lead.
It was an impressive performance from Myers’s men as they continued to dominate proceedings and create a number of half-chances, with Rankine and Haigh going close on separate occasions.
Earning the points
On the hour mark, Rovers boss Joey Barton did make a double substitution which gave the Pirates that added bit of energy to push Chelsea back, Thomas with the best opportunity as he cut inside and fired a shot which was palmed over by Wady.
As the game wore on though, it was the young Blues who could have added to their lead. Louis Flower, after coming on for Joe Haigh, was immediately involved in the action as he was played in on goal by Wareham but his scuffed shot was cleared off the line by Rovers right-back Pablo Martinez.
Flower was soon again through on goal, this time played in by Rankine with only the keeper to beat, but he decided to unselfishly square it to Wareham. The pass was just behind his strike partner and that allowed the keeper to make an easy save from the eventual shot.
Barton will be disappointed as his side hardly threatened in the final moments of the game but this was still an excellent win from Chelsea as a number of players impressed. The victory win means we are now through to the next round of the competition, with a game against Cheltenham Town later this month to spare.
Myers and his team will be looking to build on the confidence gained in this win as they play Derby County at Kingsmeadow on Saturday 16th October. Tickets are available to purchase online now!
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Ethan Wady, Josh Brooking, Xavier Mbuyamba, Alfie Gilchrist (c) (Josh Tobin 83) ; George Nunn, Lewis Baker, Xavier Simons, Dion Rankine; George McEachran, Joe Haigh (Louis Flower 72), Jayden Wareham.
Unused subs: Prince Adegoke, Luke Badley-Morgan, Richard Olise, Billy Gee.
Scorers: Lovelock OG 36 , Baker 47.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): Jed Ward, Pablo Martinez, Niall Lovelock, Cian Harries, Trevor Clarke (Tyron Mbuenimo 60); Tom Mehew, Cameron Hargreaves; Luke Thomas (Jamarni Langlais 73), Zain Westbrooke (c), Sam Nicholson (Kieran Phillips 60); Zain Walker.
Unused subs: Airdas Villinauskas, Jerry Lawrence, Owen Brain, Lucas Vaughan.
Scorer(s): Thomas 16.
Booked: Harries 56, Mehew 86.