190 days after Chelsea defeated Everton in PL2 action, competitive academy football returned with the Development Squad’s opening EFL Trophy fixture away to Oxford.. Andy Myers’ boys suffered a narrow 2-1 loss, and will be disappointed with the results on the field of play, but will be able to play again.
It was also a new-look Development Squad, with 17-year-olds Levi Colwill, Lewis Bate and Valentino Livramento all in the starting line-up along with Lucas Bergström in goal, who recently turned 18 and started his first match after suffering a severe knee injury last Nov. The experience was provided by Luke McCormick, George McEachran and Juan Castillo while Thierno Ballo led the line in attack after a fruitful run during the pre-season.
Oxford made drastic changes from their League Cup squad on the weekend but looked to be in good touch early on, with a particular threat from former Wimbledon and Burnley striker Dan Agyei. However, after a quarter of an hour Chelsea found their rhythm and started showing the hallmarks of a team that won the league title last season with an undefeated 18-match league campaign. At the end of a flowing move involving McEachran, Livramento and Henry Lawrence, Had Ballo connected better with his shot, it would have been a very early candidate for the goal of the season.
The home team instead went down the other end and took the lead through Agyei, who bundled home from near rangers after Bergström had struggled to cope with the cutback from Mark Sykes. It was that kind of half for the Blues; McCormick and Ballo saw opportunities come and go again before Castillo was guilty of the most egregious miss, firing too close to goalkeeper Jack Stevens in the Oxford goal when a neat reverse pass by Ballo set off to the left.
They were going to cost them some misses. McEachran hooked off the line shortly before the break when Bergström had been beaten by Derick Osei Yaw ‘s header, but he was not to be denied and slammed the U’s into a two-goal lead in the first half stop period, beating off the Chelsea trap before producing a clinical end.
At half time, Myers recruited Jon Russell for Bate, aiming to bring more of a physical presence to his midfield, and it paid nearly immediate dividends. Within sixty seconds of his arrival, the new man had already worked Stevens into another save, but he was on goal properly in the 53rd minute, finishing off a counter-attack led by Livramento, who displayed both tenacity and composure in setting the goal.
It should have been game on, or so. The contest became scrappy and stretched, and Oxford saw better chances rather than Chelsea upping the pressure. John Mousinho was going to want to do better with a free header from a free-kick halfway through the second half, but Lawrence kept them honest in answer to a low 25-yard skidding shot Stevens had to watch closely before parrying away.
George Nunn and Myles Peart-Harris were added to add new life to the attack, and both were involved late when Oxford was reduced to ten men after Sean Clare was forced off injured after using all three substitutes, but they seemed to want too many touches to fit when they were in good positions.
Trips to Walsall later this month and to Bristol Rovers in November will decide the fate of the Blues in this competition as their PL2 schedule begins this coming Monday lunchtime when they welcome West Ham United to their new home in Kingsmeadow.
Oxford United: Stevens, Long, Mousinho, Jones, Forde, Clare, Sykes (Brannagan 58), Kelly (McGuane 59), Hall (Napa 74), Agyei, Osei Yaw
Subs not Used: Eastwood, Moore, Asonganyi
Goals: Agyei 17, Osei Yaw 45+2
Chelsea: Bergström, Lawrence, Simeu ©, Colwill, Maatsen, Bate (Russell 45), McCormick (Peart-Harris 77), McEachran, Livramento, Castillo, Ballo (Nunn 74)
Subs not Used: Wady, Ekwah, Lewis, Simons
Goal: Russell 53