Chelsea Under-19s twice came from behind, reversing a 2-1 deficit to lead at Cobham, but a late goal ensured a share of the points in our opening UEFA Youth League group stage game.
Valencia proved stubborn Spanish opponents and took the lead on two occasions through Hugo Gonzalez Sotos and then Koba Koindredi. Tino Anjorin’s accuracy from 12 yards restored parity twice to make it 2-2 at half-time, with a handball against the skipper and a foul on Lamptey bringing about the two penalties.
Armando Broja’s goal just after the hour mark looked like the winner for Andy Myers’s side as we led for 23 minutes but Koindredi struck again in the final exchanges to snatch a point for his team. Ajax’s 4-0 win over Lille gives the young Dutchmen the early advantage in Group H.
Just four of the starters from April’s final returned to line up against the Spaniards on a warm afternoon at Cobham. Karlo Ziger retained his place in goal after shootout heroics in last season’s semi-final, while Tariq Lamptey, Ian Maatsen and George McEachran also started.
Myers went with a four-man defence and 16-year-old Lewis Bate alongside McEachran in midfield, while Broja led the line up front just ahead of Anjorin. Billy Gilmour missed out with injury, while Marc Guehi had spent previous days training with Frank Lampard’s senior side and so was also absent.
It was a frantic start to proceedings in the Group H contest as both sides looked to secure an early advantage. Henry Lawrence, fresh from scoring his first development squad goal last week, shot narrowly over the crossbar with five minutes played, though it was Valencia who exposed our high back-line to take the lead.
Els Taronges fired a warning when Pablo Gozalbez hit the post following a purposeful run forward from former Arsenal youngster Yunus Musah, with the rebound eventually smuggled behind.
However, the visitors were soon celebrating as Gonzalez Sotos fired them in front inside the opening 10 minutes. A pass from the left created confusion between our defence and goalkeeper, with Gonzalez Sotos capitalising with a smart finish across Ziger’s goal and inside the far post.
Early questions were being asked of our resilience and character but Anjorin quickly found the answer to draw us level before the quarter-hour mark. Having combined neatly with Lawrence down the left, it was the midfielder’s low centre across goal that struck the arm of Valencia skipper Hugo Guillamon and the Irish referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty. Anjorin’s spot-kick from 12 yards was equally assured, clipped straight down the middle to make it 1-1.
The Blues got on top for a spell thereafter, with Anjorin and Broja combining to good effect in the final third. The striker fired narrowly wide from the left having been played in down the inside-left channel, before Thierno Ballo and McEachran teed up a sight at goal for Anjorin but the England Under-19 international got his connection all wrong.
Valencia continued to cause problems of their own, springing forward quickly and with a direct route to goal in mind. They found the lead again midway through the half, although Koindredi’s strike from distance proved pretty unstoppable for Ziger as it flew through the air and into the back of the net via the inside of the post.
Myers’s development squad have frequently fought back to rescue deficits in the opening month of the campaign and that comeback character was required once again. Their response was another positive one and keeper Joaquin Blazquez thwarted the lively Anjorin before Broja showed strength and skill to advance from halfway but was unable to get in a shot on target.
Yet the Spanish side proved architects of their own downfall once again as another penalty was conceded nine minutes before the break. Musah was the guilty man on this occasion, bringing Lamptey to the floor illegally as the full-back advanced into the box. Anjorin stepped up again and this time went for the right corner, which he found to draw the score level again.
The second period started in more measured fashion as both sets of players looked to heed half-time warnings from their coaches to tighten up at the back. Wakely did well defending the front post from two early teasing deliveries, though our attacking output was more restrained.
The malaise was broken after an hour of action and it was one of our slickest moves of the game that unlocked the Spanish defence. Lamptey burst into life down the right, skipping past two challenges and heading into the box before cutting the ball back invitingly into the path of Broja. Our number nine did the rest, sweeping in a confident close-range finish for his seventh goal of the season.
Valencia still believed they could take something from the game in the remaining 30 minutes and Ziger’s work steadily increased as the half wore on. Our Croatian keeper did well to keep hold of Koindredi’s stinging strike before saving smartly at his near post from Gozalbez. From the resulting corner, substitute Jose Lechon darted to reach the delivery with a flicked header that Ziger pushed on to the bar with a fingertip save.
With the Blues seemingly holding on to the points, there was one late sting in the tail. A free-kick conceded on the edge of our box gave Koindredi the chance to fire at goal again and his connection was so sweet as he thumped the ball into the far corner.
Chances in the final minutes went the home side’s way, with Ballo handed the best of the bunch. Bate and McEachran exchanged neat passes before Marcel Lewis moved into a crossing position and stood one up to the back post, though the Austrian was unable to direct his header on target. The final action saw McEachran swing in a corner from the left but Clinton Mola’s header was too high.
A share of the points was probably a fair result at the end of an entertaining contest. Myers’s men will be back in European action away at Lille in a fortnight. Before then, it’s Southampton at St Mary’s on Saturday in Premier League 2.
Chelsea (4-4-1-1) Karlo Ziger; Tariq Lamptey (Tino Livramento 67), Jack Wakely, Clinton Mola (c), Ian Maatsen; Thierno Ballo, Lewis Bate, George McEachran, Henry Lawrence; Tino Anjorin (Marcel Lewis 72; Armando Broja (George Nunn 90+1)Unused subs Nicolas Tie, Dynel Simeu, Sam McClelland, Levi ColwillScorers Anjorin (pen) 13, (pen) 36; Broja 61Booked Lamptey
Valencia (4-4-2) Joaquin Blazquez; Pascu, Hugo Guillamon (c), Guillem Gutierrez, David Ruiz Montero; Hugo Gonzalez Sotos (Xavi Estacio 70), Koba Koindredi, Yunus Musah, Pedro Aleman Serna (Ignacio Garre 70); Pablo Gozalbez (Ferran Magraner 89), Noha Ndombasi Nlandu (Jose Lechlon 63)Unused subs Carlo Perez Sanchez, Gaston Kappes, Brais Val AlonsoScorers Gonzalez Sotos 9; Koindredi 23, 84
Referee Paul McLaughlin (IRL)
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom