Controversial though it may be, Chelsea’s involvement in the Checkatrade Trophy continues to yield positive results both on and off the pitch, as they beat Wimbledon 2-1 on Tuesday night to reach the last sixteen of the competition for the second successive season.
The merits of allowing Under-21 teams to compete alongside fully-fledged professional outfits have long been discussed, with heated arguments almost always developing, but the Blues will have learned more about themselves from this single ninety-minute outing than they will in half a season’s worth of Premier League 2 fixtures. It was a challenging affair against a Dons side featuring a mix of youth and experience themselves, one that required plenty of resolve, and one they were ultimately up for.
They’re not new to this, after all, and have grown in stature in their third go-around in the Football League Trophy. Having been one win away from a Wembley final last season, Joe Edwards and company have been determined to go one better this time around, and their group stage hammerings of Swindon and Plymouth served notice that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Wimbledon, still under the caretaker stewardship of Simon Bassey following Wally Downes’ appointment as manager earlier in the day, looked on paper to provide a stern test of their credentials.
Few teams can compete with Chelsea’s ability in possession, and the Dons certainly didn’t try, preferring instead to sit back in a solid shape constantly organised from the touchline by Bassey, inviting the hosts to break them down and risk exposing themselves at the back. It meant the first half in particular was a very cagey and cautious affair, short on incident, but not on intrigue.
Conor Gallagher and Charlie Brown tried without success to unlock the defence before Wimbledon showed precisely why their game plan worked. Tyler Burey, a youth team graduate of their own, twisted and turned his way past Juan Castillo down the left before picking out James Hanson in the middle, and the experienced big man guided a half-volley towards goal only to be denied by the crossbar.
A warning shot it wasn’t, but rather the start of a concerted spell of dominance for the visitors. Anthony Hartigan extended Jamie Cumming with a powerful long-range try minutes later, and they had Chelsea pinned back in their own defensive third for long periods. It asked questions of them, to which they had the answers, eventually settling back down and regaining their composure before taking the lead shortly before half time.
It came from the penalty spot, after Marc Guehi had gone down under a challenge, having nicked the ball ahead of his man. It looked rather soft in all honesty, but Brown wasn’t in a charitable mood, sending Tom King the wrong way from twelve yards for his 16th goal of the season.
If 1-0 nudged their noses ahead, 2-0 gave them real breathing room, and it came early in the second half. Brown and Gallagher combined superbly down the right to carry the ball up the pitch, Faustino Anjorin fizzed over a perfect cross, and Daishawn Redan stooped to conquer with a close-range header to double the lead.
Back came Wimbledon though. Alfie Egan, a scorer against Edwards’ Under-18s in the FA Youth Cup two years ago, hooked wide from the edge of the area and, with Downes now present in the dugout alongside Bassey, yellow shirts flooded forward in an effort to force Chelsea to surrender under increased pressure.
They brought Joe Pigott, Anthony Wordsworth and Mitch Pinnock off the bench and reaped the rewards; Wordsworth got a goal back with twenty minutes left, directing a loose ball towards goal from a corner, and they were back in with a shout whether it was him or Will Nightingale with the final touch. Terell Thomas then forced a spectacular save from Cumming and Pinnock lashed over from the corner of the penalty area in wasteful fashion.
Chelsea needed to regain a foothold in the game and turned to Billy Gilmour. Within thirty seconds of his arrival in midfield he had spun his way out of pressure before firing a sumptuous cross-field pass to Lamptey, who found another substitute in Luke McCormick only for the final shot to clear the crossbar. The match had swung back in favour of the West Londoners, and Wimbledon didn’t like it.
Wordsworth was rather petulant in kicking out at Lamptey to stop him breaking away on another counter-attack; the melee that followed was little more than handbags, but Wordsworth was shown a straight red card for his misdemeanour. McCormick and Pinnock would each be booked for acts of retribution in the minutes that followed, but Chelsea had the cooler heads and saw out the clock to book their place as one of the last eight teams in the Southern section, and keep their Wembley dream alive.
Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey (Grant 88), Colley, Nartey ©, Guehi, McEachran, Gallagher, Anjorin (McCormick 71), Brown (Gilmour 83), Redan, Castillo
Subs not Used: Taylor-Crossdale, Masampu, Thompson, Mola
Goals: Brown ’37 (pen), Redan ‘47
Booked: Redan, McCormick
Wimbledon: King, Sibbick, Nightingale, Thomas, Garratt, Hartigan, Egan (Pinnock 66), Trotter © (Wordsworth 66), Jervis, Burey, Hanson (Pigott 57)
Subs not Used: Tzanev, Watson, Wagstaff, Kalambayi
Goal: Wordsworth ‘70
Booked: Jervis, Pinnock
Sent Off: Wordsworth