Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James made their long-awaited returns from injury for Chelsea’s Development Squad on Friday night in a 2-1 win over Brighton at Stamford Bridge.
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It’s impossible to bury that particular lede, as two of the club’s brightest prospects edged ever-closer to a first-team return, but this was about more than those two players. A sixth match unbeaten since the start of the season kept Andy Myers’ boys atop the Premier League 2 table, and they achieved it with the help of two rather less heralded, but no less impressive, youth team graduates.
To describe Henry Lawrence and Marcel Lewis in those terms might still be slightly premature; they’re on the cusp of stepping up on a full-time basis, bridging Saturday mornings with Ed Brand and pushing for more Dev Squad minutes, and neither did their chances any harm whatsoever with significant contributions from first to last.
Lawrence opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a goal that will have seen Hudson-Odoi credited with an official assist, yet it owed everything to the do-it-all midfielder masquerading as a makeshift left-back once again. Overlapping his illustrious team-mate on the edge of the area, he received a pass, cut back inside onto his preferred foot, and whipped a delicious finish over Tom McGill and into the top corner of the Brighton goal.
It livened up a first half that otherwise lacked incident. Th Seagulls had two good moments come to nothing largely because Lawrence was on hand to intervene, first to block Peter Gwargis’ shot, and then to clear off the line from Ryan Longman after Haydon Roberts had been allowed to gallop some fifty yards into attack.
James showed one or two nice touches in his 45 minutes, while Hudson-Odoi was more involved before making way for Faustino Anjorin on the hour. A free role after the break saw him get on the ball more often, to largely mixed results, and he’s now set to increase his playing time over the remainder of September, beginning with the next Development Squad fixture away to Southampton.
The Blues will go into that at the League’s summit because Lewis found a second goal with a quarter of an hour remaining. His maiden goal at this level came at the end of a goalmouth scramble, and was just reward for a performance full of heart and defensive work off the ball. A healthy crowd of some 4,000 gave him a standing ovation when he departed a few minutes early.
Tariq Lamptey was a constant menace to a Brighton team that could only stop him by fouling him, as so many teams do, and Charlie Brown’s selfless work on attack again went without paying off when he slammed his best chance off the outside of the post after Anjorin had set him clear. Perhaps the only blot on the evening’s work was the 94th-minute consolation conceded to Alex Cochrane, but it’s been a very impressive start to 2019-20 by a group of players standing out among the senior pros that have been parachuted in around them.
Chelsea: Tié, James (Ballo 45), Wakely, Guehi (c), Lawrence, Mola, Lamptey, McEachran, Brown, Lewis (Lavinier 83), Hudson-Odoi (Anjorin 60)
Subs not Used: Žiger, Broja
Goals: Lawrence 19, Lewis 73
Booked: Mola, Ballo, Tié
Brighton: McGill, A.Davies, Cochrane (c), O’Hora, Freestone, Roberts, Spong (Jenks 45), J.Davies (Cashman 81), Longman, Richards, Gwargis (Radulovic 81)
Subs not Used: Yapi, Keto
Goal: Cochrane 90+4
Booked: Freestone, J.Davies