Chelsea’s hopes of an Under-18 league and cup double remain very much alive after they hauled themselves back from being a goal and a man behind to beat Blackburn 2-1 at Cobham on Saturday morning.
The Blues rode their luck on more than one occasion but, despite falling behind to a well-taken Bradley Lynch goal and seeing Tariq Lamptey sent off for deliberate handball, they rescued all three points courtesy of Martell Taylor-Crossdale’s 20th goal of the season and a late own goal caused by the scintillating Callum Hudson-Odoi.
With Wednesday’s FA Youth Cup decider against Manchester City very much in the forefront of their attentions, Chelsea had split their senior players between this match and the previous evening’s Development Squad outing, with all but the unwell Dujon Sterling and the injured George McEachran and Josh Grant able to feature. Schoolboy Lamptey was handed his first start at right wing-back a fortnight after making his debut as a substitute away to Manchester City.
Jody Morris’ boys knew a win would lift them to the summit of the Merit Stage table, but were also aware that the standings are so tight that any mistakes would likely leave them playing catch-up. They began with a purpose that highlighted that urgency, with Hudson-Odoi and Marc Guehi both failing to convert goalscoring chances in the early moments.
The former was also unable to guide a header into an unguarded net following a particularly ferocious cross from Taylor-Crossdale, and Guehi was denied by the woodwork from a corner won following a good try by Conor Gallagher. The ever-lively Hudson-Odoi and Lamptey both drew saves from the increasingly-busy Matthew Campbell in the Rovers goal, but the visitors offered a stark reminder of the fact that they too are in the title hunt when Lynch hit the crossbar from fully thirty yards with an effort that left Marcin Bułka flailing at thin air.
Indeed, they took the lead early in the second half when Lynch intercepted a suicidal ball across the face of the Chelsea defence and coolly lifted a finish over the advancing Bułka, and then set about defending it. Campbell’s superb reflex stop frustrated Guehi once again, but the home team threw blue shirts forward in search of the equaliser, and duly got their reward when Taylor-Crossdale bundled home from a corner, substitute Charlie Brown lending a helping hand in the process.
They thought they’d completed the comeback when Gallagher had the ball in the net again only for the lineman to flag for a transgression, and after Brown and Hudson-Odoi had gone close again, the script was well and truly torn up. Blackburn launched a counter attack that saw Lamptey prevent Callum Wright from restoring the lead with a goal line handball, for which he duly received his matching orders.
Wright, however, couldn’t convert the penalty, his effort striking the inside of the post to give Chelsea hope. Gambling with a 3-3-3 formation, they left themselves exposed at the back in search of a potentially season-defining win, and needed a fair amount of fortune to remain in with a shout.
Wright and Callum Hendry both saw golden opportunities come and go, but Blackburn were suffering from the intensity of the game too, and after Taylor-Crossdale had nodded just over from Tariq Uwakwe’s corner it looked as if it would end up honours even. Then Hudson-Odoi, summoning the last reserves of energy after his hardest-working performance of the campaign, went on a run down the right and delivered a cross which Ben Blackburn could do little other than turn into his own net in agonising fashion to hand Chelsea a 2-1 win.
It ensures that their destiny remains in their own hands. Four wins from the final four matches of the season will see the Blues claim two trophies, with Wednesday’s Youth Cup second leg the first hurdle. Tickets remain on sale for the clash at Stamford Bridge, priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Chelsea: Bułka, James, Colley (Uwakwe), Guehi, Castillo, McCormick (Jameson), Lamptey, Gallagher, Taylor-Crossdale, Hudson-Odoi, St Clair (C.Brown)
Sub not Used: Cumming
Goals: Taylor-Crossdale, Own Goal
Sent Off: Lamptey
Blackburn Rovers: Campbell, Jackson, Evans, Mols, Blackburn, Doyle, Wright, Buckley, Hendry (Carter), Lynch, Dolan (O’Brien)
Booked: Wright, Doyle