Chelsea’s Checkatrade Trophy campaign continues after a dramatic 2-1 victory away to Portsmouth in the last sixteen of the competition, with a Charly Musonda brace booking a Quarter Final berth in the most dramatic of fashions.
The Belgian had struck on the hour mark to give his team a lead they had fought hard for, having seen off considerable first half pressure, but a stoppage-time equaliser from the evergreen Brett Pitman threatened to extend the contest into a tense penalty shootout. Musonda wasn’t finished though, steering home a gorgeous free kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time to send the Blues through.
Chelsea have been accustomed to playing against heavily-rotated Football League opposition throughout their run in the competition so far, but with Portsmouth not having played since New Year’s Day, manager Kenny Jackett picked a very strong starting eleven full of players that have helped them to sixth in League One so far this season.
Joe Edwards, on the other hand, was unable to call upon the same first-team experience he utilised at Milton Keynes in Round Two, but could at least call upon the services of Musonda, Dujon Sterling, Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi after all of them were on the substitutes’ bench for the first team’s goalless draw at Norwich City on Saturday.
It promised to be the sternest test yet of the Blues’ credentials on the road to Wembley, but they were up for the fight, with many an interested observer in the crowd taking stock with the winter transfer window open. Pompey posed a consistent threat from set pieces, starting inside the first two minutes with dangerous free-kicks and corners, but Trevoh Chalobah and Josh Grant were stout in their defending, and set the tone for the rest of the first half.
When the hosts did find a shooting opportunity, they found Marcin Bułka in good form. The big Pole got down well to push Connor Ronan’s low drive away for a corner, and showed good handling to deal with several deliveries into his area. At the other end, Harvey St Clair’s slide-rule ball released Callum Hudson-Odoi, who found the angle against him when trying to beat Luke McGee from an inside left position.
Jacob Maddox was forced off prematurely through injury, giving Edwards the chance to make an attacking substitution by introducing 16 year-old forward Daishawn Redan, and moving Musonda into a deeper midfield role. It helped establish a bit more control of possession, but Portsmouth were all about forcing mistakes and taking advantage of them.
Oliver Hawkins twice went close with headed efforts, the second parried by Bułka, who was then on hand to kick away Jamal Lowe’s follow-up. Another save from Hawkins followed moments later, whilst Ronan closed out the first half with a fizzing free-kick from 30 yards out that flew a foot or two over the crossbar.
This is a Chelsea group that has been maturing tactically over the course of the season though, and as the game approached the hour mark, they began to push a little further forward and ask questions of Portsmouth. Afforded a little more time and space to get further up the field, they sensed there was an opportunity to make a decisive breakthrough, and it arrived after 59 minutes. Musonda wriggled away from his man in midfield and broke into space before releasing Kyle Scott, who was aware enough to find the Belgian with a return ball, and the finish was swiftly dispatched into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.
Jackett had already introduced two forwards from the bench in the form of Kal Naismith and leading goalscorer Pitman, but they weren’t able to get into the same positions as they had routinely found in the first half. Matthew Kennedy hit a clean one into Bułka’s waiting arms, and the Chelsea goalkeeper was authoritative with several more hanging crosses into his territory, whilst Harvey St Clair looked increasingly dangerous on the break. His 73rd-minute cross was met by Scott, who simply ran into the ball rather than properly connect with it, but McGee showed quick instincts in recovering his position to make an impressive save.
Grant became the second player lost to injury in the final ten minutes, with Joseph Colley his replacement, and it was Chelsea’s turn to drop deeper and closer to their own goal in order to preserve their slender lead. Pitman caused plenty of commotion with his size and strength, and having been denied by Ampadu’s block, he made doubly-sure at the next time of asking, sweeping home from close range after the Wales international had missed a header in the second minute of time added on.
Penalties loomed until Hudson-Odoi embarked upon a 50-yard run late, late in the day, that was unceremoniously ended by a crude foul by Christian Burgess. Up stepped Musonda with an inch-perfect free kick from the edge of the area, to give Chelsea the win they deserved and book their place in the last eight, just two games from Wembley.
Portsmouth: McGee, Thompson © (Pitman 53), Burgess, Clarke, Donohue, May, Close, Lowe, Ronan (Chaplin 76), Kennedy, Hawkins (Naismith 53)
Subs not Used: Bass, Deslandes, Widdrington, Bennett
Goal: Pitman ‘90+2
Chelsea: Bułka, Sterling, Chalobah, Ampadu, Grant (Colley 83), Sammut ©, Maddox (Redan 28), Scott (McCormick 87), Musonda, St Clair, Hudson-Odoi
Subs not Used: Christie-Davies, K.Hazard, C.Dasilva, Cumming
Goal: Musonda ’59, ‘90+5