They had an extra man for the entire second half, they hit the woodwork and they missed sitters, but Chelsea’s Development Squad couldn’t quite find the winning recipe away to Tottenham Hotspur in Friday night’s Premier League 2 action at Stevenage’s Lamex Stadium.
A Richard Nartey own goal had proved to be a setback for a Blues side that had started brightly in chilly Hertfordshire, but the match would swing on the dismissal of Spurs defender Japhet Tanganga shortly before half time, in an incident that allowed Billy Gilmour to equalise from the penalty spot.
Much of the contest thereafter was played in the home team’s half but, try as they might, Chelsea couldn’t get their heads in front, and remain firmly in mid-table with one eye looking back over their shoulder at the relegation battle Tottenham themselves remain embroiled in.
Ethan Ampadu started a third consecutive match at this level and he did so in a different position once again. Having marshalled the defence from the middle of Joe Edwards’ usual back three against Derby County, he was in midfield for 45 minutes against Swansea last time out, and here he took up a place on the right of the three-man defence. Perhaps that was partially to give him more exposure covering at right-back when the play moved to that side, or perhaps it was mere coincidence, but he dealt with most things with the minimum of fuss as usual.
Conor Gallagher and Martell Taylor-Crossdale, the latter afforded a start in the absence of the injured Charlie Brown, were well off-target with ambitious early efforts before Tottenham established a foothold. Nartey was unlucky to see Harvey White’s cross deflect into his own goal on 16 minutes to hand the hosts the advantage, but Chelsea weren’t at the races for patches after that. Paris Maghoma threw his shoulders back, puffed out his chest, and strolled through midfield before giving J’Neil Bennett a shot that was well-saved by Jamie Cumming, who then watched the same player fizz one over from a bit further out, and it really was comfortable for Wayne Burnett’s side at that point.
When Tanganga hauled Daishawn Redan back with the Dutchman about to get a shot away, though, everything changed. Referee Sam Allison decided against issuing a direct red card, although Tanganga didn’t appear to make a genuine effort to play the ball, but having already been booked for an earlier foul he was duly sent off for a second caution.
Gilmour drove the penalty past Brandon Austin to level the scores, and the rest of the match saw Chelsea try to break down a Tottenham rearguard that had its sights set on holding on to what they had.
Frustrated by his team’s inability to play both quicker and higher up the pitch, Edwards introduced Luke McCormick after his latest spell out of the team, and his natural energy and desire to get into the final third added an extra dimension to the attack. Indeed, within two minutes of his arrival, Redan had the ball in the net, but was offside when getting the final touch to the substitute’s shot.
McCormick himself then missed the target after being found by Uwakwe as the screw was tightened, although Spurs were able to play out a little too easily for Edwards’ liking, and they still carried a threat when Maghoma’s speculative dig from distance flashed wide. This was all about whether Chelsea could find a winner though, and the chances began to come. Taylor-Crossdale was unable to keep his header down before Uwakwe measured himself to take a gorgeous curling try from the edge of the area that cannoned back off the underside of the crossbar. With the goal at his mercy from the follow-up, Taylor-Crossdale blazed over.
As the fourth official’s board showed five minutes of additional time, Nartey’s long ball found McCormick, who was suddenly completely clear on goal. Austin stood tall and made a brilliant initial save and, despite being beaten by the follow-up, his defence did him proud in making a breathtaking goalline clearance. That was the chance, that was the moment, but it wasn’t to be and they’ll go again next Friday at home to Manchester City.
Tottenham Hotspur: Austin, Hinds, Cirkin, White, Tanganga ©, Lyons-Foster, Oakley-Boothe, Marsh, Tracey (Dinzeyi 84), Maghoma (Shashoua 90+4), Bennett (Duncan 81)
Subs not Used: Glover
Goal: Nartey ’16 og
Booked: Lyons-Foster, Tanganga, Tracey, Maghoma, Bennett
Sent off: Tanganga
Chelsea: Cumming, Ampadu, Nartey ©, Guehi, Maatsen (McCormick 60), Gilmour, Gallagher, Uwakwe (Colley 90), Redan (McEachran 75), Taylor-Crossdale, Castillo
Sub not Used: Ziger
Goal: Gilmour ’43 pen
Booked: Gallagher, Ampadu