Chelsea’s Checkatrade Trophy campaign got off to a losing start on Tuesday evening as they went down 2-1 away to Swindon Town but they will come away from the clash with a lot of credit and having learned plenty about senior football.
Taking their place as one of sixteen development squads invited to take part in the Football League competition for third and fourth-tier sides, the Blues succumbed to a pair of set-piece goals in Wiltshire, with Raphael Rossi Branco and Nathan Delfouneso each heading home to secure three points for Swindon. Mukhtar Ali came off the bench to crash home a deserved goal for a Blues side who deserved at least that for a confident showing overall.
Chelsea made two changes from the team that started Friday night’s Premier League 2 victory over Tottenham with Dujon Sterling and Iké Ugbo replacing Jake Clarke-Salter and Jacob Maddox, and theirs was an all-teenage side featuring ten Englishmen, with nine of those having represented the Three Lions at youth level. Swindon started four of those who began their weekend League One defeat to rivals Oxford but their team was nonetheless full of players with significant experience, as competition regulations demand.
It was a confident start from the visitors, who came into the contest in good form, and they certainly looked anything but overawed in their first official fixture against senior opposition. Mount looked to find Ugbo in the area with an improved pass without success whilst Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and Johnny Goddard were out of luck trying to make gains in wide areas for the Robins.
Jermaine Hylton was the first to create a clear-cut chance, working his way into a good shooting opportunity only for Trevoh Chalobah to do just enough to force him wide. Chelsea cleared for a corner but were powerless to prevent captain Rossi Branco from rising imperiously at the far post to head home Sean Murray’s delivery, the sort of situation the Blues all too rarely come up against in developmental football.
Far from retreating into their shells at the setback, the Blues stormed back into the contest and might’ve been level within two minutes were it not for the frame of the goal. Mount, receiving the ball on the edge of the area, opened himself up before whipping a delicious curling effort that beat home goalkeeper Will Henry only to crash back off the underside of the crossbar and bounce away to safety.
They followed that by winning possession high up the pitch; Ugbo releasing Wakefield down the right for an ultimately disappointing near-post strike, whilst Christie-Davies and Mount again might have done better with efforts from the edge of the area, the latter particularly guilty of snatching at his moment in the spotlight.
Swindon had enough about them to remind Chelsea that they were the big boys in this tie with forwards Hylton and Luke Norris giving both Trevoh Chalobah and Fikayo Tomori a real test and it was Hylton who got away from Tomori close to the break, squaring for Norris only for Sterling to pounce with a last-ditch clearance from a yard out. Wakefield then stuck one over the crossbar at the end of a neat and tidy Blues corner routine to round out the first forty-five minutes.
A spirited opening to the second period almost reaped rewards for Chelsea when Wakefield’s cross from the right was pawed away by Henry with Ugbo lurking but, with an hour played and still trailing, Adi Viveash dipped into his bag of tricks for the first time. Swedish defender Joseph Colley replaced Ugbo with an adjustment to the formation seeing Wakefield move into the centre-forward’s role and Sterling into a more advanced position on the right.
Then it was 2-0 Swindon and, again, it was a set piece that proved Chelsea’s undoing. Another Murray delivery, this time a free kick from well out on the left, was curled towards goal where substitute Delfouneso, once of Aston Villa, glanced a header beyond Collins to put clear if undeserved daylight between the two teams.
A young team became even more youthful with the introduction of 16 year-old Martell Taylor-Crossdale for a debut at this level midway through the half but the second goal had well and truly taken the wind out of their sails. Mount tried to pick things up with a sparkling slaloming run inside from the left where he was eventually denied by Henry, before Tomori tried his best to bundle home from a corner without success.
With the clock ticking towards the final ten minutes, it was suddenly game on. Ali, on for barely five minutes, took a square ball from Dasilva 25 yards from goal and unleashed an unstoppable hit that flew into the top corner, leaving Henry with absolutely no chance. It was a goal of the highest order and one that gave Chelsea a fighting chance.
They probed without reward though, and it took two smart saves in stoppage time from an injured Brad Collins to prevent Darnell Furlong and Jonathan Obika from restoring the two-goal lead too. Nevertheless it was a largely impressive performance with two moments they’ll learn from when they take on Exeter City and Oxford United in the remainder of their group stage fixtures in October and November.
Swindon: Henry, Furlong, Sendles-White, Jones, Rossi-Branco (c), Ormonde-Ottewill, Smith, Murray, Goddard (Iandolo 57), Norris (Delfouneso 45), Hylton (Obika 72)
Subs not Used: Vigouroux, Brophy, Evans, Barry
Goals: Rossi Branco ‘18, Delfouneso ‘61
Booked: Rossi Branco, Delfouneso
Chelsea: Collins, Sterling, T.Chalobah, Tomori, J.Dasilva (c), Quintero (Ali 73), Scott (Taylor-Crossdale 65), Mount, Wakefield, Christie-Davies, Ugbo (Colley 57)
Subs not Used: Muheim, Sammut, St Clair, Thompson
Goal: Ali ‘79