A classic it wasn’t, but Chelsea won’t care. Armando Broja’s 82nd-minute thunderbolt sent the Blues back to the top of the Premier League 2 table with a 1-0 win away to Tottenham Hotspur, where they remain unbeaten after 13 of 22 matches, and are most certainly in title contention.
Having showed the spirit and resolve to come from behind to avoid defeat in each of their previous three league outings before Christmas, Andy Myers’ youngsters this time hung in a contest that lacked quality and intensity throughout, and produced the only real moment of quality when it mattered most.
This was a Chelsea team shorn of Tariq Lamptey, Billy Gilmour and Tino Anjorin, three players of a calibre few other clubs can call upon. In a season that has already seen so many players turn in courageous performances in any number of positions that change during each match, let alone week to week, the group’s tactical flexibility was on show at the crucial juncture. The late introduction of Lewis Bate, debuting at this level, saw Myers shift from his 4-2-3-1 shape to a 3-5-2 formation for the last ten minutes, a move that pushed Broja into attack alongside the indefatigable Charlie Brown, and it paid off handsomely.
Tottenham rather flattered to deceive, a theme of their season, and only fleetingly looked like scoring. Midfielder Tashan Oakley-Boothe had their best chances, one in each half, but Jamie Cumming was rarely asked to make a serious save on a chilly night at Stevenage’s Lamex Stadium. Brandon Austin wasn’t much busier in the Spurs goal, granted, but was at least called upon to take command of his penalty area when Chelsea pushed further forward in search of goals after half time.
The goal that won it was worth waiting for though. Building down the right, Henry Lawrence and substitute Jon Russell combined well to play their way through the Tottenham defence and set Broja on his way to goal. Still with plenty to do from a position wide right of centre, he finished with the confidence of a striker scoring his 17th club goal of the season, unleashing a thunderous strike that left Austin with absolutely no chance.
There was an encouraging return from injury for Tariq Uwakwe, making his first start since October, while Brown and Lawrence were dependable and committed as ever. Xavier Simons joined Bate in making a late first appearance in the league at this level (having already made an EFL Trophy outing), and as 2020 gets off on the right note, the impact of those coming off the bench, and those adding fresh impetus to the group, could prove to be crucial in Chelsea’s chase for the Premier League 2 title.
Tottenham Hotspur: Austin, Okedina (Clarke 89), Hinds, Thorpe (Patterson 71), Eyoma ©, Lyons-Foster, Markanday, Oakley-Boothe, Richards, Shashoua, Tracey
Subs not Used: Dinzeyi, Oluwayemi, Pochettino
Booked: Austin, Thorpe, Oakley-Boothe
Chelsea: Cumming, Lawrence, Wakely, Guehi ©, Maatsen, Mola, Broja, McEachran, Brown (Simons 90), Ballo (Russell 45), Uwakwe (Bate 80)
Subs not Used: Ziger, Simeu
Goal: Broja 82