Chelsea’s Development Squad bounced back from defeat at Everton on Monday night to upset title-chasing Leicester with a 1-0 win at Aldershot on Friday evening.
A single second-half goal from Daishawn Redan, who was celebrating his seventeenth birthday, proved enough to separate the two teams in a real battle of an affair, with Chelsea having to play with their backs to the wall for long spells. They dug in, defended heroically, and were very well worth the three points at full time.
This was the second game in the space of five days for Joe Edwards’ youngsters, and fell in the middle of a run of three games in nine days that will culminate in next Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy Semi Final against Lincoln City, and so there was plenty of rotation to the starting eleven. Marcin Bułka, Richard Nartey, Juan Castillo and Dujon Sterling replaced Jamie Cumming, Joseph Colley, Josh Grant and Kyle Scott from the side that began on Monday, whilst first-team duty continued to deprive the group of the services of both Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Seeking to defeat a Leicester side unbeaten in the league since September, and having suffered just one defeat in seventeen matches across all competitions since then, the Blues adopted a 3-5-2 formation with Harvey St Clair supporting birthday boy Redan up front. It was the former who began in lively fashion, tickling a low shot towards goal after a mazy run before then unlocking the door for Jacob Maddox, who went down under Josh Knight’s challenge inside the penalty area, but referee Chris Pollard decided there was no foul and waved play on.
The Foxes’ best early moments came in the form of unconvincing long-range tries by Josh Gordon and Harvey Barnes, but their superior size and their considerable experience and age soon began to tell, and they quickly racked up the chances. Sam Hughes’ deflected header looped wide of the target, Darnell Johnson’s rather more powerful effort by comparison shaved the top of the crossbar, and an almighty goalmouth scramble saw four or five Chelsea blocks before Gordon somehow slammed a shot against the goalpost with the goal at his mercy from less than six yards out.
St Clair and Maddox failed to make the most of decent sights of goal when Chelsea were able to get into Leicester territory, but those moments were few and far between before half time, and the hosts were fortunate to go into the dressing room at the break on level terms. Having awkwardly tipped Hamza Choudhury’s 50-yard free kick onto the crossbar moments earlier, Bułka more than made amends when he produced a world-class reaction save to tip Callum Wright’s blockbuster shot away for a corner when a goal appeared to be a near-certainty.
A change of formation ahead of the second half saw Edwards switch his defence to a back four, whilst pushing Dujon Sterling into the attack, and it posed different questions of the Leicester rearguard. Reece James’ powerful hit was beaten away by Iversen, but it served notice, and the Norwegian could do nothing when Redan opened the scoring two minutes later. The Dutchman showed poise and intelligence beyond his tender years in trapping Luke McCormick’s tame effort, holding off his man, and turning to fire home from six yards out for his tenth goal of the season.
The shift in shape also gave Chelsea greater purpose and focus in defensive areas. James began to dominate his side of the pitch, whilst McCormick was far more involved in partnership with Sammut than he had been earlier in the evening. Leicester, perhaps predictably, came on strong as the half wore on, but neither Hughes nor Connor Wood could hit the target with any conviction, and a defence marshalled well by Nartey stood firm.
Scott and Isaac Christie-Davies came on for the final quarter of an hour to help stabilise the midfield and, as Leicester pressed higher up the pitch, they left plenty of space at the back for the home team to try to exploit. Redan had several opportunities to really open his legs and utilise his devastating pace to full effect, but his decision-making was somewhat lacking, and those moments disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
Christie-Davies skied well over from close range after Scott did well on the right as the clock ticked into the last ten minutes, and his profligacy almost came back to haunt him late on, as Leicester threw caution to the wind. A huge throw by Choudhury caused absolute chaos in the Chelsea penalty area, but some committed defending saw three different blocks, and a save by Bułka, whilst Nartey hacked Johnson’s shot off the line in desperation.
Nartey had been his team’s best player on the night, defending immensely from start to finish, and made two further interventions in stoppage time to help see his team through. This was the sort of game the young Blues might have lost earlier in the campaign, but they’ve worked hard to develop a steely resolve over the past few months, and it is paying considerable dividends now. Next stop, Lincoln.
Chelsea: Bułka, Sterling, James, Nartey, Chalobah, Sammut ©, Maddox (Scott 73), McCormick (Christie-Davies 73), Redan, St Clair, Castillo
Subs not Used: Grant, Cumming, C.Dasilva
Goal: Redan ‘51
Leicester City: Iversen, Johnson, Wood, Sherriff (Dewsbury-Hall 85), Knight, Hughes, Eppiah, Choudhury ©, Gordon (Ndukwu 70), Barnes, Wright (Martis 78)
Subs not Used: Bramley, Touray