They had to wait until the last chance in 2018 but Chelsea’s Development Squad finally recorded their first home league win of the season against West Ham on Friday night, and they did it in dramatic style.
It hasn’t been a bad season by any measure, thanks in large part to their tremendous away record, but they’ve found the going much tougher at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium and had failed to record a victory there since February. So when Luke McCormick’s deftly-guided header left Hammers’ goalkeeper Joseph Anang flat-footed and crossed the line in the first minute of stoppage time, there was palpable relief mixed with the joy of celebration for those in blue.
This, three days removed from a mightily impressive win against Wimbledon to book their place in the last sixteen of the Checkatrade Trophy, was no classic. The beleaguered Blues sleep-walked their way through a first half in which they failed to register a shot on target, and found themselves deservedly trailing at the break, when Reece Oxford made sure he was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch physically as well as literally to head West Ham into a late lead.
Oxford, who was the subject of a rejected £15m offer from Borussia Mönchengladbach a year ago only to remain in the Hammers’ Under-23 ranks, also marshalled an impressive defensive effort that rendered Charlie Brown and Martell Taylor-Crossdale little more than frustrated spectators in the first 45 minutes. Joe Edwards hauled them off in favour of Redan and Faustino Anjorin, but that wasn’t enough to spark his team into life either, and the deficit was doubled ten minutes after the restart.
It came from the penalty spot, after Marc Guehi had clumsily brought down Jahmal Hector-Ingram on his way towards goal. Joe Powell did the rest from twelve yards, as he did in the reverse fixture at Dagenham in September, and it looked a long way back from there for Chelsea. The visitors might well have been out of sight had Hector-Ingram taken either of the two good chances that came to him soon after, but Jamie Cumming was equal to the first and, when he wasn’t for the second, he found Guehi on the line to help him out.
It was the introduction of McCormick combined with a tactical adjustment by Edwards that truly served as the catalyst for the comeback. Having seen them kept at an arm’s length all night, he had wing-backs Tariq Lamptey and Juan Castillo swap flanks, and focus on playing inside rather than going wide of their man every time. There were promising signs when Castillo quickly earned enough space to produce a cross that McCormick couldn’t quite get enough purchase on, but while he failed there, he wouldn’t do so again.
So, when Conor Gallagher muscled his way between two claret shirts down the right and pulled the ball back invitingly for the substitute midfielder, he made sure with a powerful low finish to give his team a foot-hold in the contest with thirteen minutes remaining. West Ham looked a tired team and had already turned to their bench for defensive reinforcements when Lamptey chased a lost cause down the left, allowing McCormick to turn provider for Redan, delivering a perfect cross for the Dutchman to head home for 2-2 with 80 minutes on the clock.
There would only be one winner at this stage, and although Lamptey could only find the side netting himself when they next came forward, and Gallagher saw a fine try well-saved by Anang, they wouldn’t be denied. As the board went up for five minutes of stoppage time, a deep cross from the right called out for a Chelsea head, and McCormick obliged, steering the ball back across goal and past Anang, with Redan on hand to make sure it crossed the line.
The win lifts them to third in the Premier League 2 table, two points shy of leaders Derby County, who face second-placed Everton next week. Perhaps more importantly, however, it puts an end to an unwanted piece of trivia that has undoubtedly affected them at times in recent weeks, and they can head into 2019 hoping to further improve their home record and mount a title challenge.
Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey, Grant ©, Colley, Guehi, McEachran, Gallagher, Gilmour (McCormick ’64), Taylor-Crossdale (Redan ’45), Brown (Anjorin ’45), Castillo
Subs not Used: Nartey, Thompson
Goals: McCormick ’77, ’90, Redan ‘80
West Ham United: Anang, Johnson (Bennett ’90), Akinola, Coventry, Pask, Oxford, Kemp (Ngakia ’84), Makasi ©, Hector-Ingram (Rosa 81), Powell, Neufville
Subs not Used: Trott, Diallo
Goals: Oxford ’43, Powell ’56 (pen)
Booked: Coventry, Oxford