A late goal by substitute Marcel Lavinier gave Chelsea’s development squad a well-deserved but hard-earned win at Derby in our first Premier League 2 game of the season.
Despite dominating possession throughout much of the game, the Blues had to be patient and wait for the breakthrough as the Rams made clear chances difficult to come by.
However, deep into a rain-soaked second half, a well-worked corner routine resulted in Ian Maatsen curling a high cross into the box from deep. Clinton Mola rose highest only to see the Derby goalkeeper produce one of several excellent saves throughout the match to push out his towering header, but Lavinier was on hand to leave him no chance with the follow-up, smashing the rebound over the line from close range.
Andy Myers made two changes to his starting line-up from the EFL Trophy win over Swindon Town’s senior side which opened the season, with goalkeeper Jamie Cumming and midfielder George McEachran making way.
That meant Karlo Ziger stepping in between the posts, protected by an unchanged back four of Tariq Lamptey, Mola, Maatsen and captain Marc Guehi. Marcel Lewis came into the side behind striker Charlie Brown, with Tino Anjorin dropping back into midfield alongside Billy Gilmour, as Tariq Uwakwe and Juan Castillo started on the flanks.
After a scrappy opening, Chelsea started to exert control and apply some early pressure. It took us just six minutes to get the ball in the back of the net through Anjorin, as he converted Castillo’s square pass after we had won the ball back high up the pitch, but it was ruled out for offside as Brown was judged to be interfering with play by blocking the goalkeeper’s view with his run across goal.
With our full-backs pushing forward we were looking particularly threatening in wide positions, as Derby particularly struggled to deal with the combination of Maatsen and Anjorin on the left wing.
Brown had a decent chance himself as we tried to convert our possession into an opening goal, after being found by Castillo with a chipped pass over the defence. Brown did well to bring the ball down with his first touch, but his second was too heavy and allowed the keeper to rush out and smother the ball at his feet.
That was followed by a brief break in play as Gilmour received treatment after a late challenge from Derby’s Shonibare, which resulted in the game’s first yellow card. Blues keeper Ziger had to be alert from the restart, rushing out of his area to clear a dangerous long ball over the top, getting there just ahead of the striker.
Derby were starting to get back into the game and had their first attempts at goal shortly afterwards, both from headers, but neither Max Hunt nor Jahmal Hector-Ingram could get their efforts on target, the former having arguably the best chance of the game so far when he was found on the penalty spot by a free-kick from wide.
However, as the first half entered its last 10 minutes it was Chelsea who called the goalkeeper into action twice in quick succession. Castillo was released down the left channel, but saw his powerful shot saved well high at the near post. Gilmour then tried a curling effort from the edge of the box after being teed up by Uwakwe, who had switched with Lewis to move into the centre of midfield, Anjorin moving forward in support of Brown, but the Scot didn’t get the connection he wanted and it was a routine save.
Brown was the next to have a go as we ended the half strongly, attempting a difficult shot on the swivel with his left foot, but it skimmed across the goalmouth and wide. The last effort of the first period saw centre-back Guehi come close to scoring a goal of the season contender, as he collected a clearance on the halfway line and walked the ball up the pitch, before making use of the space Derby were affording him by letting fly with a rasping low shot from 35 yards, which bounced a whisker wide with the goalkeeper beaten.
Chelsea began the second period clearly trying to put pressure on Derby high up the pitch and that tactic resulted in the first sight of goal, as Uwakwe intercepted a pass 25 yards out and fed Anjorin, who moved forward with purpose and drove a low curling shot towards the far post, but Ravas produced a good save to tip it wide.
Chelsea’s first substitution came shortly afterwards, as Thierno Ballo replaced Lewis, and the new introduction was straight into the action, cutting in from the right wing and trying a curled effort on his left foot, but it was straight at the goalkeeper.
Gilmour then flashed a shot from range wide of the near post as the game continued to be played almost exclusively in the Derby half, but despite our dominance of the ball we were struggling to find the space inside the penalty area to create a clear-cut chance.
The first time the ball came into the Chelsea half Derby won a corner, but as the cross came into the box a nasty clash of heads between Castillo and Cameron Cresswell left the Blues winger bleeding heavily from a cut, bringing his evening to a premature end as he was replaced by Marcel Lavinier.
When play resumed Lamptey, who had pushed forward to play on the right of midfield following that substitution, had probably the best chance of the game so far. He showed good skill to turn inside his man on the right-hand side of the box, but flashed his shot just wide of the top corner with the keeper motionless.
The game suddenly opened up at both ends, Derby launching their first meaningful attack of the half as a deep cross from the left found its way through to Connor Dixon at the back post, but he couldn’t get around the ball with a half-volley from close range.
The Blues surged straight up the other end and Anjorin seemed to have broken free as he jinked past what looked like the last Derby defender, but Cresswell made a brilliant recovery tackle to block the shot and deny an almost certain goal.
The Rams’ skipper Alex Babos rippled the net the wrong side of the crossbar with a free-kick from just outside the box, following a foul which earned Guehi a booking, but Ziger looked to have it covered.
As the game entered the closing stages, Uwakwe came close to getting the breakthrough with a clever free-kick of his own, trying to catch the goalkeeper out at his near post from a wide position, but Ravas recovered in time to punch the ball behind for a corner.
We did have the lead from a set-piece just a minute later though. A smartly worked short corner on the left ended with Maatsen curling a high cross into the box from deep. It was met with a powerful downwards header by Mola, which was brilliantly saved by Ravas, but the Rams keeper was helpless to prevent Lavinier turning in the rebound from close range.
The home team tried to hit back as they searched for an equaliser, Chelsea bringing on Jack Wakely to help keep things tight at the back as the game entered six minutes of added time, but it was the Derby keeper who was again called into action, diving low to his left to palm away Ballo’s half volley.
Brown then found himself free in the box thanks to a brilliant reverse pass by Ballo, but his chipped effort over the grounded goalkeeper dribbled wide of the post with the seconds ticking down.
Despite the lengthy injury time, that proved to be the last significant action of the match, as Chelsea left Pride Park with a fully deserved win, even if we were made to work hard to get the result our performance merited.
Chelsea (4-4-1-1) Karlo Ziger; Tariq Lamptey, Marc Guehi (c), Clinton Mola, Ian Maatsen; Tariq Uwakwe, Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin (Jack Wakely 90), Juan Castillo (Marcel Lavinier 63); Marcel Lewis (Thierno Ballo 52); Charlie BrownUnused subs Jake Askew, Armando BrojaScorer Lavinier 85Booked Lamptey 39, Guehi 74
Derby County (4-2-3-1) Henrich Ravas; Callum Minkley, Ethan Wassall, Max Hunt, Jordan Brown; Connor Dixon, Cameron Cresswell (Archie Brown 71); Jayden Mitchell-Lawson, Alex Babos (c) (Javuan Splatt 90+2), Josh Shonibare (Liam Thompson 58); Jahmal Hector-IngramUnused subs Matt Yates, Yoann GrecoBooked Shonibare 19, A Brown 83
-Pictures courtesy of Andy Clarke