Chelsea might have been making sandcastles pre-match but it was far from a day at the beach for the Development Squad as they earned a hard-fought point away to Everton in Premier League 2 action on Friday night.
On a terrible playing surface at Southport’s Pure Stadium, one with plenty of sand coverage owing to recent bad weather, the young Blues extended their unbeaten league run to fifteen matches and extended their lead at the top of the table to three points courtesy of Faustino Anjorin’s second-half brace. Having been 1-0 down at half time, the turnaround was impressive, but it wasn’t one they could build upon and ultimately had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Facing an experienced Toffees team without the likes of Tariq Lamptey, Billy Gilmour, Ian Maatsen, Jamie Cumming and Clinton Mola, Chelsea instead included 16 year-old Levi Colwill and 17 year-old Valentino Livramento in a team short on experience but with plenty of endeavour and conviction about their play. Emboldened early by the hosts’ inability to get to grips with the pitch, they ought to have tested Joao Virginia in the home goal when Livramento linked up well with captain George McEachran, but instead it was Everton who had the first chance when Nathan Markelo muscled his way into position before scuffing his shot wide in a cloud of dust.
Everton were a threat throughout the contest from set pieces, and might have been ahead after a quarter of an hour were it not for two good saves from Karlo Žiger, who had a fine night for the visitors. At the other end, Jon Russell laid on the chance of the game for Armando Broja after half an hour, but he too found that neither goalkeeper was in particularly charitable mood as Virginia rushed out quickly to keep him at bay.
The longer the first half went on, though, the more Everton looked like scoring, and they did find a breakthough five minutes after Broja failed to do so. Evans’ corner was cleared to Beni Baningime on the edge of the area and, although Marcel Lavinier produced a magnificent goal-line clearance, Seb Quirk reacted first to turn the ball into the unguarded net from close range. Had Dennis Adeniran made more of two good openings late in the half, David Unsworth’s charges might have been out of sight.
But if Andy Myers was looking for a reaction from his team after half time, he got one, and had to wait just eleven seconds for it. Anjorin closed down Lewis Gibson’s attempted long ball before gathering possession and lashing an unstoppable effort into the far bottom corner to get the second half off to a perfect start from Chelsea’s perspective. It invigorated the youngsters and, soon enough, they’d completed the turnaround. Tariq Uwakwe took McEachran’s pass before turning Gibson inside-out, whereupon he was felled for a clear penalty.
Anjorin assumed responsibility and delivered one of the most casual spot kicks you’re ever likely to see, rolling the ball into the corner with the utmost nonchalance, and the Blues had the lead for the first time.
Unfortunately, they weren’t to hold it for very long, as Everton were soon awarded a penalty of their own when McEachran bundled Baningime over in desperation to clear his lines. Žiger, who had moments earlier kept out Adeniran’s latest shot, got a hand to Antony Evans’ strike, but couldn’t keep it out.
That’s how it all finished; despite a late volley from Anjorin and a final hurrah from Everton, both teams looked relatively content with the point and found little reason to risk life and limb on a surface that would do nobody any favours. Chelsea move a point further clear of Leicester City at the PL2 summit and welcome the Foxes to Aldershot next Friday night in a true title tussle.
Everton: Virginia, John, Foulds, Markelo, Feeney ©, Gibson, Evans, Baningime, Simms (Mampala 79), Quirk, Adeniran
Subs not Used: Ouzounidis, Tyrer, Branthwaite, Denny
Goals: Quirk ’33, Evans ’68 (pen)
Chelsea: Žiger, Lavinier, Wakely, Colwill, Lawrence, Russell (Simons 89), Livramento (Brown 69), McEachran ©, Broja, Anjorin, Uwakwe
Subs not Used: Tié, Ballo, Simeu
Goals: Anjorin ’46, ’61 (pen)