Checkatrade Trophy report: Lincoln 1 Chelsea 1 (4-2 on pens)

Our development squad battled all the way against League Two opponents but their journey in the Checkatrade Trophy ends at the semi-final stage after a penalty shootout defeat.

Luke Waterfall’s thumping header had given the hosts a second-half advantage in front of a near-10,000 crowd but that lead lasted just five minutes as Daishawn Redan spun in the box and fired a fierce drive in from 10 yards following impressive creative work from Callum Hudson-Odoi.

It was a mature defensive performance from a side with 10 teenagers in the starting team and we battled and blocked until the end of a bruising encounter. The shootout swung both ways, with the Blues initially handed the advantage after a Lincoln miss but Ethan Ampadu and Jacob Maddox were denied from 12 yards as Lincoln booked a first ever trip to Wembley.

There was one change from the 3-0 quarter-final win against Oxford United at Stamford Bridge, with Kyle Scott missing out due to illness. Richard Nartey was his replacement as Edwards kept the 3-4-2-1 shape but utilised Trevoh Chalobah in a midfield role.

Reece James, Richard Nartey and Ethan Ampadu comprised the back three in front of Marcin Bulka, with Dujon Sterling and Juan Castillo continuing as wing-backs. Skipper Ruben Sammut partnered Chalobah in central midfield, with Harvey St Clair and Hudson-Odoi tasked with supporting Redan in attack.

Edwards spoke in the build-up about an expectancy to defend deep for long periods, similar to our hard-fought victory against Portsmouth at Fratton Park in the earlier knockout rounds. Earning the right to play has been a theme throughout our run to the last four and the Blues were put to the test in the early exchanges at a snowy Sincil Bank.

Danny Rowe forced the first save of the game from Bulka after five minutes, a low strike from 20 yards watched and gathered well by our Polish keeper, before the Imps intensified the pressure. A corner from the left was won in the air and the loose ball fell kindly for Matt Rhead, whose initial shot was blocked brilliantly by Nartey before Chalobah cleared the rebound from Elliott Whitehouse off the line.

It was an early sign of the storm to come and Lincoln continued to create presentable chances. Whitehouse’s deflected effort flew just wide before Neal Eardley struck over the bar and Harry Anderson forced another routine low stop from Bulka.

Ampadu was required to be alert and anticipate the danger as Anderson found Rhead at the back post midway through the half. The big striker knocked the ball back for Matt Green but our 17-year-old defender made a crucial interception to hook the dropping ball clear.

Edwards’s side were struggling for options going forward and the manager switched to a back four in search of a solution, with Sterling pushed higher on the right flank. The tweak had the desired impact as the visitors managed to stem the flow of attacks from the League Two side and slowly began to offer a threat of their own.

Our best move of the half came late on as James, now playing at right-back, scampered down the wing and pulled an inviting ball back towards the edge of the box but his delivery failed to reach a teammate in blue. Lincoln’s set-pieces continued to cause problems but Bulka punched clear with authority, while Nartey jockeyed Rhead well and the striker’s eventual shot lacked the power to trouble our goal.

Danny Cowley’s side, last season’s National League champions and FA Cup quarter-finalists, fashioned an early opportunity after the restart as top scorer Green advanced from the left but he fired into the side-netting from a narrowing angle. 

Down the other end, Hudson-Odoi picked up James’s switch from the right and cut dangerously inside onto his right foot before curling towards the top corner. It looked destined to be the opener but the retreating Michael Bostwick came to the rescue for Lincoln as he headed to safety.

Jacob Maddox was introduced after an hour of action but it was fellow midfield man Sammut whose eyes lit up with a sight at goal moments later. Hudson-Odoi did well to keep the ball in on the left touchline and his cross fell nicely for the captain but his connection was poor and the ball drifted harmlessly wide of Ryan Allsop’s goal.

Lincoln were aiming for a win that would seal their first major final but the resilience and resolve of Edwards’s side was starting to create frustration among the home ranks. Rhead’s promising free-kick flew straight into the Chelsea wall but groans soon turned to cheers around Sincil Bank as the hosts took the lead with 18 minutes to play.

A long throw from the right was initially defended well but the ball returned in the form of a deep delivery to the back by Eardley and centre-back Waterfall rose high above James to power a header beyond Bulka inside the near post.

That ignited the contest on a freezing cold evening in the East Midlands and the Imps could have doubled their advantage almost immediately. Rowe made progress into the 18-yard box and bore down on goal but Bulka twice thwarted him with a superb double save from close range. It was an intervention that proved significant as the Blues found an equaliser after 78 minutes.

Hudson-Odoi was once again central to the move as he beat two defenders with a jinking run in the box and played a teasing ball across the face of goal which ran all the way to St Clair. The wideman fired a return and it fell for Redan, who turned instantly to smash an unstoppable drive into the back of the net.

A little over 10 minutes remained until the prospect of a semi-final shootout but our youngsters were fully aware their night’s work was far from finished. Ampadu and Nartey both threw themselves in front of Lincoln shots and substitute Ollie Palmer volleyed over. There was time remaining for one last chance for the hosts as Bostwick put in a cross and Anderson powered a header across goal but it narrowly missed the target.

Penalties were required to settle this contest and the Blues had the first advantage after Sam Habergham saw his spot-kick hit the crossbar and bounce away. Kylian Hazard then slotted in but Ampadu fired against the woodwork and Lincoln were flawless from there, netting their next four to claim the victory.

 

Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Marcin Bulka; Reece James, Richard Nartey, Ethan Ampadu; Dujon Sterling (Jacob Maddox 60), Trevoh Chalobah, Ruben Sammut (Kylian Hazard 90+2), Juan Castillo; Harvey St Clair, Callum Hudson-Odoi; Daishawn Redan
Unused subs Nicolas Tie, Isaac Christie-Davies, Joseph Colley, Cole Dasilva, Josh Grant
Scorer Redan 78
Booked Chalobah 27

Lincoln City Ryan Allsop, Sam Habergham, Elliott Whitehouse, Luke Waterfall, Matt Rhead (Ollie Palmer 67), Matt Green, Michael Bostwick, Neal Eardley, Danny Rowe (Lee Frecklington 90+3), Harry Anderson (Cameron Stewart 90+2), Alex Woodyard
Unused subs
Paul Farman, Sean Long, Ellis Chapman, Danny Horton
Scorer Waterfall 72

Referee David Webb
Crowd 9,444