A spirited display full of character from Chelsea’s Development Squad denied Everton the chance to be crowned Premier League 2 champions at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium on Friday night as the two teams played out a thoroughly entertaining 2-2 draw.
The visitors knew that three points here would be enough to see them finish top of the pile but a pair of Iké Ugbo goals ensured that their celebrations were put on hold despite the best efforts of goalscorers Bassala Sambou and Liam Walsh.
A thin Chelsea squad already deprived of Charlie Wakefield (injured) and Josimar Quintero (international duty) also had to contend with an upcoming Under-18 league fixture whilst falling between two FA Youth Cup Final dates. Adi Viveash was able to call upon Trevoh Chalobah, Jacob Maddox, Mason Mount and Ugbo from that particular group, whilst schoolboy Jonathan Panzo continued at this advanced level in a youthful back four also featuring Cole Dasilva and Richard Nartey.
With silverware as little as ninety minutes away, Everton’s appetite for the match was apparent from the very first minute. Sambou wasted a good chance created by midfield schemer Walsh, whilst Beni Baningime clipped the crossbar with a thunderous effort from the edge of the area following a less than convincing clearance by goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney.
It was no exaggeration to suggest that David Unsworth’s charges could have been three goals to the good before a quarter of an hour had been played and, had captain Jonjoe Kenny’s missile of a shot nestled into the top corner rather than flashing wide of it, they would’ve had a deserved lead. All of which made it all the more interesting when Chelsea struck first moments later.
As with most of what’s been good about the team this season, it was conjured by the talented feet of Mount and finished by the clinical Ugbo. The former carried the ball through Everton territory on the break before finding a smart reverse ball through to his centre-forward, who smashed his 22nd goal of the season past Mateusz Hewelt with the aid of a heavy deflection.
Everton’s response was swift and predictable. Sambou twice extended Beeney into saves before heading a relatively simple chance over from no more than six yards out, but the former Coventry forward was not to be denied and did level the scores after pouncing on a loose ball from Nartey and, after his initial effort had also been saved, tucking into the back of the net with some relief.
The league’s best team since the big kick-off back in August then set about making sure they would finish the night, and the campaign, on top. It took seven second-half minutes for them to complete the turnaround, and although Walsh had seen a header fall wide of the target seconds earlier, he made sure with his next try as he swept Kenny’s cross past Beeney via the legs of the unfortunate Nartey.
That was, at least, until Ugbo struck again. Collecting Kyle Scott’s pass outside the Everton penalty area, he turned onto his weaker left foot before steering an accurate effort into the bottom corner and beyond Hewelt for his 23rd goal of the season in all competitions.
All structure and control then went out of the window as the action swung from end to end with both sides threatening to add to the tally. Sambou continued to give a less-than-stellar account of himself in his personal duel with Beeney by heading a simple finish straight at him following another terrific delivery from Kenny, whilst Mount’s trickery and ingenuity nearly handed Ugbo a hat-trick on a plate; their individual wavelengths not quite connecting on that occasion.
The frantic nature of the match continued right up to the very end, when Kenny almost won it for Everton with a far-post header from another corner, but Beeney made another top save to ensure the spoils were deservedly shared and the visitors would have to wait a little while longer to be crowned champions.
Viveash’s boys have one more fixture left away to Derby in a fortnight’s time, but all attentions now turn to Wednesday’s FA Youth Cup Final decider at Stamford Bridge. With the tie finely-poised after a 1-1 draw against Manchester City last Tuesday, it’s all to play for, and tickets remain on sale priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Chelsea: Beeney, C.Dasilva, Nartey. T.Chalobah, Panzo, Sammut (c), Maddox, Scott, Ugbo, Christie-Davies (St Clair 55), Mount
Subs not Used: Thompson, Colley, Suljic
Goal: Ugbo ’15, ‘60
Everton: Hewelt, Kenny (c), Robinson, Baningime, Besic, Feeney, Dowell, Walsh, Sambou, Williams (Henen 80), Charsley (C.Duffus 87)
Subs not Used: Foulds, Gray, Broadhead
Goal: Sambou ‘27, Walsh ‘53