Chelsea’s Development Squad were punished for not being good enough for long enough against Brighton & Hove Albion at Aldershot on Saturday, succumbing to a 3-2 defeat, despite mounting a late and enthusiastic comeback effort.
The Blues were second-best for long portions of the match, and found themselves 3-0 down before an hour had been played, as goals from Victor Gyokeres, Aaron Connolly and Jordan Davies put them to the sword. A more concerned attempt at capturing the urgency they required saw them make a fist of a turnouround, with Billy Gilmour and Faustino Anjorin reducing the deficit, but they couldn’t quite get the job done, and remain without a home victory since February.
After a busy week taking in trips – and triumphs – over land (Manchester) and sea (Molde), Joe Edwards’ side might have been tired, but they would also have been buoyed by recent results and confident entering a clash against a very capable Brighton outfit. There was some rotation to recent team changes, as Marcin Bułka, Marc Guehi and Martell Taylor-Crossdale were all afforded starts, while lynchpins Josh Grant, George McEachran, Gilmour, Tariq Lamptey and Juan Castillo continued in the eleven.
There was plenty of possession for the hosts in the first half; they just rarely did anything with it. Taylor-Crossdale’s promising shot from the edge of the area that struck a defender was, for a long time, as good as it got while Brighton looked a more dangerous unit on the break. It took several blocks of their own, in addition to a save by Bułka, to keep them on terms before they did eventually concede midway through the opening period.
It came from the penalty spot when a foul was given against the Blues as Mattias Norman went tumbling in the box. Protests aside, Gyokeres found the top corner from twelve yards, and the Seagulls were off and running.
Taylor-Crossdale threatened an equaliser with a brave diving header that clipped the foot of the post with goalkeeper Hugo Keto beaten, but rather than read 1-1, the scoreboard turned to 0-2 moments later. Gyokeres, a class apart on the day, turned an aimless Brighton clearance into a swift counter-attack; trapping the ball an dribbling towards goal, he this time claimed an assist as he slipped Connolly on, and the Irish forward did the rest with a smart finish between Bułka’s legs.
There was little let-up from Simon Rusk’s side in the second half either, and they were surely out of sight within ten minutes of the restart when some passive Chelsea defending allowed them to pass their way onto the box, where Davies applied the finish from close range.
Maybe it was the knowledge they had little to lose at this point that sparked Chelsea into life. Maybe it was the awarding of a penalty of their own twenty minutes from time, when Norman this time fouled Gallagher and allowed Gilmour to get them on the board from the spot. Whatever it was, the game took on a completely different personality, and it was all that Brighton could do to hold on.
Their job became that much harder five minutes later when Anjorin, on as a half-time replacement for McEachran, spun and fired home his first Dev Squad goal to bring the Blues within a goal of parity. Forward they poured; Taylor-Crossdale flashed a shot just wide, Lamptey put two glorious chances on a plate in quick succession without reward, and Nartey had a looping header saved by the grateful Keto.
Anjorin, though, was the real catalyst for change and was a persistent nuisance to Brighton as the game went on. He should have done better with a close-range header but almost made up for it with a gorgeous try from much further out; his 25-yarder extending Keto to his fullest to keep it out.
And that was the story of the final chapter of the match, nearly but not quite. Chelsea weren’t up to scratch for enough of the match to take something home with them, and they will return to work at Cobham on Monday seeking an improvement ahead of a trip to Plymouth on Tuesday, with a place in the Checkatrade Trophy knockout stages up for grabs.
Chelsea: Bułka, Lamptey, Grant (c), Nartey, Guehi, McEachran (Anjorin 45), Uwakwe (Gallagher 64), Gilmour, Redan (Brown 70), Taylor-Crossdale, Castillo
Subs not Used: Cumming, Colley
Goals: Gilmour 70 (pen), Anjorin 75
Brighton: Keto, Moore, Cox, Sanders, Barclay, O’Hora, Dreyer, Norman, Connolly, J.Davies (Roberts 87), Gyokeres
Subs not Used: Collings, A.Davies, Gwargis, Ljubicic
Goals: Gyokeres 22 (pen), Connolly 41, J.Davies 52