It hasn’t been the easiest week for Chelsea’s Development Squad.
A lengthy trip North last weekend to play Everton was all for nothing, as the match was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, but they were back on the road again three days later for a 450-mile round trip to Plymouth and back in the EFL Trophy.
A last-gasp winner from Jon Russell made the return journey from Devon all the sweeter, but the visit of Blackburn Rovers to Cobham on Saturday meant there was no rest for the wicked. Russell got himself on the scoresheet again, though, and a late winner from Armando Broja ensured the Blues finished the week still unbeaten in the league, and returned to the top of the Premier League 2 standings.
This wasn’t an easy fixture by any stretch of the imagination. Blackburn, respectably mid-table, are one of those opponents who routinely draw you into a war of attrition and who are capable of making life very hard for their opponents. Which is why it was so impressive that Chelsea absolutely bossed the first 45 minutes on a cold and wet day at their Surrey headquarters.
Still without Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin and Tariq Uwakwe for various reasons, but able to welcome back Marc Guehi and Tariq Lamptey after a midweek spent with the first team, the Blues were sharp and incisive for long spells in the first half, and their play was neatly encapsulated in their opening goal after half an hour. Jack Wakely’s searching pass found Lamptey on the right and, after beating two Rovers defenders, he found Thierno Ballo, who in turn rolled the ball to Russell for a confident finish high into the roof of the net. The Austrian had laid on the winner for the same player at Plymouth, and repeated the feat here.
Perhaps Chelsea should have gone in at the break with a healthier lead to show for their superiority but, truth be told, they didn’t have that many chances to do so. And perhaps that in turn was the problem. For all their possession and control, they hadn’t consistently unlocked the Blackburn defence, leaving them with a precarious single-goal advantage that would soon come under threat.
The warning signs were there within two minutes of the restart, as Guehi was needed to clear Hayden Carter’s shot off the line, and although Clinton Mola struck the foot of the post in response, the game was swinging in Rovers’ favour. Karlo Žiger was in inspired form in the home goal, denying Isaac Whitehall with one particularly memorable save, but it took a team effort to stay ahead, as George Nunn would later painfully testify to after putting everything on the line to produce a crown jewel of a block on Sam Burns.
The inevitable happened with a quarter of an hour left when Dan Butterworth thumped a volley past Žiger to equalise, but Chelsea replied swiftly and decisively. Substitute Broja got the better of Carter with a fifty-fifty ball on the halfway line, before surging away to slot past Joe Hilton for his first goal at this level, after a prolific start to the campaign with Ed Brand’s Under-18s.
Žiger was still needed a few more times before they could celebrate going back to the top of the league, but there will be no time to relax, for Ajax come to town on Tuesday in another must-win UEFA Youth League group stage clash. On the basis of the last seven days, the boys will be ready to go again.
Chelsea: Žiger, Lamptey, Wakely, Guehi (c), Lavinier (Lawrence 70), McEachran, Ballo, Mola, Brown, Russell (Broja 56), Nunn (Lewis 75)
Subs not Used: Bergström, Simeu
Goals: Russell 28, Broja 76
Blackburn Rovers: Hilton, Whitehall, Thompson, Pike, Carter, Barnes, Mols (c), White, Burns (Zimba 75), Butterworth, Paton
Subs not Used: Boyomos, Eastham, Durrant
Goal: Butterworth 74
Booked: Pike, Carter