A much-changed Chelsea Development point missed the chance to go six points clear at the top of the Premier League 2 table on Friday night as they allowed Leicester City, their nearest challengers, to mount a late comeback from 2-0 down to claim a point with a stoppage-time equaliser.
On a day that saw Tariq Lamptey and Clinton Mola depart on a permanent basis, while Charlie Brown joined George McEachran in finding loan moves, it was something of a new-look Chelsea that carried the title charge, and they did so promisingly for 75 minutes. Tino Anjorin’s fabulous first-half strike was followed by Henry Lawrence’s second at the end of a neat team move, but Leicester came on strong late in the game, and nabbed a share of the spoils through Tyrese Shade and, at the death, Darnell Johnson.
Both teams were in sprightly form on a wet Aldershot evening, but it was Leicester who enjoyed the better of the early chances, calling Karlo Žiger into action on more than one occasion, and having a goal unfortunately ruled out when Ali Reghba decided to get the final touch to Levi Colwill’s goal-bound interception from an offside position. It would prove to be a particularly careless act as Chelsea took the lead two minutes later. The returning Luke McCormick won possession back on the halfway line and sent Anjorin away down the left; the Blues’ number eight sized up his options before coming inside and firing an unstoppable effort past Viktor Johansson.
Johansson had to intervene to deny Lawrence shortly before the break, but it was Žiger who was busier still right up until the half time whistle, firstly making a terrific reaction save from Calvin Ughelumba, and then throwing himself at Josh Eppiah’s best effort. Leicester might have felt they deserved to be on terms and so, when Chelsea doubled their lead after an hour, they will have been particularly aggrieved.
Lawrence put the finishing touches to the move but it was that man Anjorin who made the difference again. Motoring through the gears from midfield, he burst through the lines to release Armando Broja, now leading the line with Brown having departed for Belgian football. The Albanian Under-21 forward in turn fed McCormick, who saw Johansson save his shot but not Lawrence’s follow-up.
Now they had to see out the win, under increasing pressure, and without the talismanic Anjorin in midfield after he hobbled off twenty minutes from time. One of Leicester’s own substitutes got them back into the match when Shade held his own out wide on the right and found enough room to steer a lot shot into Žiger’s bottom corner, setting up quite the grandstand finish. Hardly lacking in size, the Foxes threw more men forward in an aerial bombardment that saw Andy Myers deploy Dynel Simeu for additional reinforcement from the bench, a move almost certainly predicated by Luke Thomas missing with a point-blank header seconds earlier.
And, just as it looked like the hosts would get over the line, Leicester produced the dagger. Johnson, famously the Godson of Emile Heskey (and blessed with the big man’s stature), got on the end of a stoppage-time corner to make it 2-2 and ensure that the gap between the two teams at the top of the table remains just three points. Derby and Arsenal can both reduce that over the weekend as a four-way tussle for the title heads for a fascinating conclusion over the final six matches.
For this Chelsea team, however, it was a promising transition towards a group that will have to get the job done in unexpected circumstances. Allowing Brown and McEachran to get a taste of life on loan will have been in the plans, as will Marc Guehi’s trip to Swansea, but losing Lamptey and Mola in the same week will have come as both a shock and a blow. This is a group that has adapted to every obstacle in their way so far though, and the performances of Broja, Marcel Lavinier, 16 year-old Levi Colwill and the returning Tariq Uwakwe will have given plenty of reason to believe that they have what it takes to finish on top.
Chelsea: Žiger, Lavinie (Simeu 78), Wakely, Colwill, Maatsen ©, Russell (Nunn 83), Lawrence, Anjorin (Livramento 69), Broja, McCormick, Uwakwe
Subs not Used: Tié, Ballo
Goals: Anjorin ’28, Lawrence ‘60
Leicester City: Johansson, Johnson, Thomas, Leshabela, Hughes, Ughelumba, Daley-Campbell (Shade 63), Kapustka (T.Pennant 83), Eppiah, Wright, Reghba
Subs not Used: O’Connor, Stolarczyk, Hulme
Goals: Shade ’74, Johnson ‘90+2
Booked: Ughelumba, Johnson