Oxford United left it late to seal their progress in the Checkatrade Trophy. Kane Hemmings
' injury time equaliser at Stamford Bridge this evening cancelled out a Josimar Quintero goal to give United safe passage into the second-round knock-out stage.
As you would expect, the young Chelsea side had pace and talent to spare and as early as the second minute Ike Ugbo was off on a dazzling run that ended with United clearing their lines hastily after he had beaten three men.
Rob Hall, on his long-awaited return, tested Blues keeper Bradley Collins with an ambitious 30-yard effort after five minutes and looked very positive taking on his man and quick to join the more central pair of Dan Crowley
and Chris Maguire
. It gave the U’s, all in yellow, a very fluid, very flexible front line with Liam Sercombe
also quick to join in from his nominal right-wing starting role.
The ball zipped side to side without there really being too much goalmouth action in the first half hour; United’s centre back partnership of Curtis Nelson
and Aaron Martin
looked very assured and used their strength and know-how to keep Chelsea at bay until an Ola Aina cross was pushed goalwards by Marco Van Ginkel just after the half hour and came back off the left-hand post.
Hall fired an effort just wide at the other end before the best move of the half ended with a perceptive pass from Phil Edwards
, a cross from Maguire and a side foot from Sercombe that went inches wide. The same player then smashed another effort just over the top a minute later after Chelsea had dawdled on the ball and given it away.
It had been cagey stuff but on 44 minutes the home side went in front with a classy finish from Quintero. Ike Ugbo set the ball back on the edge of the box and Quintero calmly passed the ball around Lundstram, using him a a shield to hide the ball from the keeper, and into the bottom-right corner, giving Eastwood absolutely no chance of getting anywhere near it.
United responded after the break and saw Maguire lift a 30-yard free kick on to the roof of the net and Sercombe volley rather tamely wide after another sweeping move. But committing too many men forward against the young Blues was a risky business and Van Ginkel should really have made it two before the hour when he side-footed wide after Quintero had once again driven his side forward on the counter.
Hall had demonstrated what an asset he will be and was taken off after 67 minutes after a highly promising return, replacement Kane Hemmings
immediately in the action with a flick that almost caught Collins out as he back-pedalled. With Wes Thomas
soon following him on to the pitch on his own return from injury, United had plenty of urgency in the last quarter of an hour but found Kurt Zouma and his defensive colleagues hard to break down.
Injury time brought two great chances though. First, a clever through ball from Marvin Johnson set Thomas in on the keeper but his low effort was saved by Collins. Seconds later and United finally found the goal their perseverance had deserved. Maguire crossed hard and low and Hemmings, unmarked, guided the ball home to score his third goal in two games and send the U's through.
Penalties gave the bonus point to Chelsea after a marathon shoot out where everyone had a go at least once. For the record, Maguire (twice), Hemmings (twice), Rothwell (twice), Johnson (twice), Skarz, Edwards, Nelson and Eastwood (who would have killed the keeper if he had got in the way of a Moodyesque penalty) all scored. Lundstram had his shot saved twice, Thomas fired over then had the last kick saved, while Martin drew a save with the other one. However, a 1-1 draw in the other game made it all immaterial!
A two-game break has seen a huge contrast: Mertsham on Saturday, young Chelsea on Tuesday. Regardless of results the whole squad has had a work out and Hall, Thomas and Ryan Ledson
have all come back into contention, which will mean plenty of competition for places as United return to league action at Shrewsbury on Saturday.
A late goal, a draw and an unbeaten group stage can only help in the bigger picture.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA