For a dead-rubber in a much-maligned competition, that wasn’t bad.
Chelsea’s Checkatrade Trophy campaign came to an end on Tuesday evening with what should have been an unremarkable home date against League One promotion hopefuls Oxford United but, in front of a Stamford Bridge crowd of more than 6,000, the two teams played out a 13-12, seventeen-round penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw. The Blues deservedly prevailed to give themselves something to show for their participation in a tournament which will have taught them plenty about their current standing.
Dan Davies’ match gallery is always the best way to check out the match. Take a look HERE.
Defeats to Swindon Town and Exeter City had already ensured that the Blues would be unable to progress into the knockout rounds but coach Adi Viveash will have wanted his young side to go out and put their stamp on things in their only home fixture of the group and he was boosted by the continued involvement of Kurt Zouma and Marco van Ginkel, plus another first-team squad player in Ola Aina.
International call-ups had deprived Viveash of several of his more regular players but that meant opportunities for others, with Josimar Quintero, Mukhtar Ali and Joseph Colley returning to the fold, and 16 year-old Reece James making his Development Squad debut after a fine start to his scholarship for Jody Morris’ Under-18s.
Backed by one of the Trophy’s healthiest crowds of an otherwise much-criticised season in which sixteen academy sides were permitted to play against fully-fledged League One and Two sides, the Blues might have stolen an early lead when Iké Ugbo seized upon a defensive error by Curtis Nelson, but as he worked his way into the box, the visitors were able to get enough yellow shirts back to scramble the ball clear.
They had started much stronger than in either of their previous two outings against senior pros, perhaps heeding quick lessons about the unforgiving nature of the game at this level, and through Mason Mount and the lively Quintero were making strong gains through the middle of the park without finding the cutting edge in the final third. That almost changed when Aina’s shot was deflected onto the post by Van Ginkel, with the spin of the ball almost taking the ball over the line; almost but not quite.
Oxford, 5-0 winners at Merstham in the FA Cup on Sunday, looked a little short of their top form despite fielding a strong side, and only really threatened in the first half an hour through Rob Hall, who tested Collins early on from distance before then pinging a snap-shot wide from the edge of the area. Liam Sercombe was guilty of a more egregious miss close to the break when he pulled a close-range effort wide at the end of a neat and tidy passage of play that suggested his side were beginning to hit their stride, but the game duly swung in Chelsea’s favour and punished his profligacy.
Quintero’s well-placed finish low into the bottom corner, struck first time from inside the ‘D’, gave Chelsea a half-time lead their overall game had just about warranted. They had controlled much of the action and played on their terms, with Aina and Dabo impressive in defence. Zouma, meanwhile, dealt with any moments of uncertainty with the absolute minimum of fuss amidst a heavy ‘safety first’ approach.
Chris Maguire’s dipping free kick had Collins worried in the early stages of the second half but he, at that stage, still hadn’t been asked to make a truly challenging save. His next involvement was to safely catch an improvised effort from substitute Kane Hemmings, whilst in between times Van Ginkel was wasteful from twelve yards out when he turned Mount’s cutback the wrong side of the post.
James limped off prematurely in an otherwise very impressive debut and was replaced by Josh Grant, who looked very much at ease in playing his part defending the lead. Oxford pushed higher up the pitch and asked more questions of Chelsea, who repelled them as best possible led by Zouma, although they would have preferred to have kept possession a little more at times.
Ugbo and Aina both shot high and wide on the break as five minutes of additional time were shown by the fourth official, and so began the evening’s real fun and games. Collins made a brave and, apparently, match-winning save only for Hemmings to beat him at the near post moments later to level the scores.
Checkatrade Trophy rules state that a draw is followed by a penalty shootout to award the winner an additional point; the fact Chelsea were unable to progress regardless was not lost on many of those watching on, though the crowd itself dwindled by over half as many in attendance left without realising spot kicks would be taken.
Ugbo and Aina got things off to a fine start with emphatic conversions and Collins gave them a swift advantage by saving John Lundstram’s penalty. Van Ginkel handed Oxford a lifetime when his effort came back off the post, with Joe Rothwell and Marvin Johnson doing their bit for the U’s to take us into sudden death.
Collins himself stepped up for the sixth penalty but saw opposite number Simon Eastwood deny him, but Wes Thomas’ reply was high into the upper tier of the Shed End to offer him a reprieve. On we went, with Ali, Edwards, Quintero and Nelson all converted, and even when Grant saw Eastwood palm his try away, Collins was equal to Aaron Martin’s attempt to keep things all-square at 7-7.
Colley and Eastwood each scored in the eleventh round to start a second round of penalties, and once again Chelsea gave Oxford the chance to emerge with the points as Aina failed to beat the goalkeeper. Lundstram, however, made it 0-for-2 as Collins made his third save of the shootout, and the next seven takes were all good until Thomas joined Lundstram in missing both of his kicks, Collins making a fourth and final stop to ensure Chelsea exit the Checkatrade Trophy on something of a high.
Chelsea: Collins, James (Grant 72), Zouma, Colley, Dabo (c), Aina, Ali, Quintero, Mount (Maddox 90), Van Ginkel, Ugbo
Subs not Used: Christie-Davies, Scott, St Clair, Cumming, Taylor-Crossdale
Goal: Quintero ‘44
Oxford United: Eastwood, Edwards, Nelson, Martin, Skarz, Lundstram, Rothwell, Sercombe (Johnson 55), Maguire, Crowley (Thomas 78), Hall (Hemmings 67)
Subs not Used: Ruffels, Ledson, Welch-Hayes, Brown
Goal: Hemmings ‘90