Chelsea are Barclays Reserve League Champions.
A pulsating national final at Stamford Bridge was settled by penalties after goals from Mauro Formica and Todd Kane had left both Chelsea and Blackburn at a stalemate after ninety minutes.
The first six kicks were scored, but Rovers midfielder Michael Potts saw his effort stopped by Ross Turnbull, and minutes later Michael Woods converted the deciding penalty to send those who had turned up at Stamford Bridge into celebration mode.
There was something of a surprise when the teams were named as Josh McEachran was absent from the Blues’ squad after first team involvement yesterday. His place was taken by Nathaniel Chalobah in the only change from last Monday’s starting eleven.
Blackburn were without the injured Ruben Rochina, and opted not to include the likes of Grant Hanley, Mark Bunn and Nikola Kalinic, who all played at Old Trafford in last Wednesday’s playoff.
Chelsea had good early pressure and might have taken a swift lead were it not for the sharp reactions of goalkeeper Jake Keane, who did well to deny George Saville at the far post.
However, the visitors quickly proved their mettle and set about controlling the game. An effort from the edge of the area by Jason Lowe flew over the crossbar, before Tom Hitchcock tested Ross Turnbull’s aerial prowess with a rough but apparently fair challenge.
The Blues stopper did well to get down in order to stop Josh Morris’ low free kick, before Saville again drew Kean into action at the other end with a smart effort after working a yard of space for himself.
In an end to end first half, Zac Aley and Milan Lalkovic both saw chances come and go before Blackburn took the lead after seizing on some poor Chelsea defending.
A poor pass out from the back ended up with a red shirt and as they broke in numbers, Formica arrived on cue to nod in at the far post with no marker in sight.
The Argentinian has struggled to acclimatise to British shores since his January arrival from Newell’s and has yet to make his senior bow for his new club, but gave their second string a lead with a fine finish.
In response, Gokhan Tore forced Kean into work again, and minutes later Ryan Bertrand’s mis-placed cross landed on the top of the crossbar before being cleared to safety.
Saville had a decent appeal for a penalty turned down when his shirt was clearly pulled in the area, but as half time approached a succession of chances fell Chelsea’s way.
Unfortunately, neither Lalkovic nor Adam Phillip could convert, and Steve Holland’s boys went in a goal down at the interval.
There was no sign of panic from them though, and from the restart they exerted a greater territorial influence over their opponents.
Camped in the attacking half most of the time, the Blues began to carve out more goalscoring opportunities. Chalobah got on the end of Lalkovic’s cross but couldn’t keep his header down, whilst Phillip slipped at the crucial moment and saw his effort blocked.
Conor Clifford sized up a trademark long range effort but saw it balloon into the vacant Matthew Harding Lower stand, whilst Tore became the second player to see the woodwork deny him as another sliced cross bounced back off the frame of Kean’s goal.
In a rare foray forward Blackburn may have put the seal on things when Hitchcock missed a gilt-edged opportunity, but otherwise they were only really in business when capitalising on some less than convincing kicking from Turnbull.
Tore was lively and looking like the player to make the difference, but when presented with the opportunity he failed to make it count. Saville’s shot deflected through a crowd and landed perfectly at the Turkish winger’s feet six yards out.
Immediate concerns of offside were allayed with a defender on the line but Tore snatched at the opening and put the ball high over the crossbar. Head in hands, he knew he had spurned the chance of the game.
Fast forward a few minutes and Phillip found himself in similarly rueful mood. Played in by Lalkovic, he bore down on Kean but smashed his left footed attempt off target.
The woodwork was tested a third time as Magnay headed onto the crossbar after Phillip’s free kick was beaten away, and when Lalkovic skipped around the goalkeeper but saw his shot blocked on the line many questioned whether it was to be Chelsea’s night.
A triple substitution introduced fresh legs in the form of Michael Woods, Aziz Deen-Conteh and Bobby Devyne, but it was the lung-bursting energy of right back Kane which made the difference.
Picking up the ball some forty yards from goal, he advanced inside past two or three opponents and let fly from just outside the box. It was an unstoppable effort which crashed into the top corner for a certain goal of the season contender.
Tails well and truly up, Chelsea looked to win the game in the final minutes, and Kane was determined to do it himself. A second long range effort – from even further out than his goal – skimmed the crossbar whilst two more were perhaps ambitious, but struck by a player at the height of confidence.
Hearts were in mouths with the last kick of the game when Potts tried his luck from distance but saw his effort veer off target at the last moment.
The final whistle allowed everyone to take a short breather and with no extra time in the competition rules, the tie headed straight for a shootout in front of the Matthew Harding stand.
Clifford, Tore and Lalkovic were perfect for Chelsea in response to successful efforts from Blackburn’s Morris, Knowles and Parry before midfielder Potts saw the fourth kick stopped by the legs of Turnbull.
Phillip converted his effort to put his team in the ascendancy and despite Jason Lowe’s excellent penalty extending affairs, Woods dispatched his high into the roof of the net before running off to be mobbed by his teammates.
Defenders Magnay and Bertrand jointly lifted the Barclays Premier Reserve League trophy presented by league chairman Sir David Richards to seal a memorable night at the Bridge.
Team: Turnbull, Kane. Kalas, Magnay, Bertrand (c) (Deen-Conteh 79), Chalobah (Woods 79), Clifford, Saville (Devyne 79), Tore, Lalkovic, Phillip
Subs not Used: Walker, Gordon
Goal: Kane ’80
Official Man of the Match: Todd Kane
Check out Dan Davies’ excellent match photographs here.
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