It was a dramatic Sunday afternoon in the North West for Chelsea’s Under-21s as St Helens’ Langtree Park stadium played host to a six-goal thriller against Liverpool.
Goals from Michael Ngoo, Jack Robinson and Kristian Adorjan appeared to have consigned the Blues to defeat but a Jeremie Boga-inspired comeback saw them turn the game on its head in the second half and take a share of the spoils in a 3-3 draw.
Dermot Drummy was without both Islam Feruz and Lucas Piazon and so was able to afford Lamisha Musonda a first competitive start in a blue shirt. The Belgian lined up on the right of an attacking midfield trip featuring regular faces Billy Clifford and Lewis Baker, with Patrick Bamford leading the line.
Many of Liverpool’s young team have been given first team opportunities under Brendan Rodgers this season and theirs was a formidable line-up including Danny Wilson, Dani Pacheco, Adam Morgan and Robinson.
Keen to extend their recent run of good form, it was an energetic and hard-working opening from Chelsea. They pushed high up the pitch in an attempt to force mistakes, and got their wish inside the opening ten minutes when full-back John Flanagan under-hit a backpass to his goalkeeper, Peter Gulacsi.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Bamford couldn’t take the ball around the Hungarian stopper and the opening came to nothing. It would prove to be a rare moment of productivity for the visitors in a first half largely controlled by the hosts, who were able to consistently find the extra man in the ample space provided by the Langtree Park pitch.
Rodolfo Borrell’s boys took the lead midway through the first half when Ngoo prodded home from close range following Jamal Blackman’s save from Wilson’s header. It was something of a sloppy goal to concede from a Chelsea perspective, and worse was to follow as the Reds became rampant in search of further success.
Moments after Ngoo’s opener, Adorjan had a strike of his own ruled out for an offside call against Morgan after Flanagan had done well to win possession back from Adam Nditi. The young left-back, in for Aziz Deen-Conteh, then had to clear from almost underneath his own crossbar to prevent Pacheco from giving Morgan a simple tap-in.
A second goal followed before the break to give the home team deserved breathing room, and it came in almost identical fashion to the opener. Wilson bested Aké in the air from Morgan’s corner and although captain Todd Kane cleared off the line, Robinson was on hand to slam in his third of the season, and his second against Chelsea.
Drummy’s youngsters had struggled considerably to make anything tangible of their possession, with Bamford and Billy Clifford regularly isolated. George Saville and Conor Clifford saw a lot of the ball in central areas but Liverpool appeared content to let them have it and force long, low-percentage passes into areas they could defend.
Pacheco flashed an effort wide in first-half stoppage time as the opening forty-five minutes closed in appropriate fashion; Liverpool well on top and deservedly ahead by a two-goal margin.
In a bid to inject greater urgency and threat into his forward line, Drummy introduced Boga at half time in relief of the underwhelming Musonda; a change which would have match-changing consequences, but within four minutes of the restart he found his team 3-0 down.
This time the goal came from open play, but the defending was scarcely much better than it had been from the corners which had led to the first two. Pacheco’s cross from the left was good but both Aké and Alex Davey stood and watches as Adorjan arrived on cue to flick a deft header beyond Blackman’s reach into the far corner.
If Liverpool were in need of a wake-up call with the comfort provided by their lead, it was swifly provided by Boga. The Frenchman picked up the ball on the halfway line from Billy Clifford and took it forty yards towards goal, bamboozling Wilson before stroking the ball into the back of the net with great composure to make it 3-1.
It was a moment which provided Chelsea with a renewed optimism and energy, and they would enjoy a remarkable ten-minute spell in which they turned the game completely on its head. First, Gulacsi got down well to deny Bamford after good work by Conor Clifford to fashion the opening for the ex-Nottingham Forest hitman, before they hauled themselves a goal closer to parity seconds later, with Boga at the heart of it once again.
Dispossessing Craig Roddan, he played a quick exchange with Bamford, receiving his backheeled return before charging past two red shirts and tucking home from twelve yards out.
Then, with tails firmly up, Bamford latched onto a long ball and got to it a split second ahead of Gulacsi, who this time could only stop him going around him with a foul. A penalty and a yellow card were duly awarded, and Lewis Baker stepped up confidently to make it 3-3.
Liverpool were quite understandably shell-shocked by the turnaround and looked a shell of the team which had controlled the game until the first of Boga’s goals. Robinson was booked for a wild lunge on Conor Clifford which might have warranted a red card, whilst Baker could have given the Blues the lead for the first time but was unable to beat Gulacsi from a wide position.
Both teams settled down in the final ten minutes, apparently content to see things out without any further commotion, but Liverpool threatened considerably in the latter moments, with substitutes Marc Pelosi and Joao Teixeira both going close. The former had the chance of the game, breaking clear on Blackman, but he pushed his shot the wrong side of the post.
Robinson found himself in an advanced position as the match ticked into stoppage time but headed over Blackman’s goal, leaving just enough time for Bamford to pick up a caution after a robust foul on Conor Coady.
The game took on a completely different complexion when Boga arrived on the scene, with Bamford moving out to the left more and the newcomer taking up a central role similar to the one Feruz has thrived in of late. The increased movement combined with a greater purpose in transition from the midfield into attack helped Chelsea back into the game, and their second half display earned them a point they positively earned.
Liverpool: Gulacsi, Flanagan, Sama, Wilson, Robinson, Coady (c), Roddan, Ajordan (Joao Teixeira 85), Morgan (Pelosi 70), Pacheco, Ngoo
Subs not Used: Ward, McLaughlin, Sokolik
Goals: Ngoo 24, Robinson 35, Adorjan 48
Chelsea: Blackman, Kane (c), Davey, Aké, Nditi, Saville, C.Clifford, B.Clifford, L.Musonda (Boga 45), Baker, Bamford
Subs not Used: Beeney, T.Musonda, Christensen, Swift
Goals: Boga 55, 60, Baker 64 pen