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Resilient Chelsea fall just short of Wembley in Checkatrade Trophy semifinal against Lincoln City

Lincoln City 1-1 (4-2 p/k) Chelsea U21, Checkatrade Trophy semifinal: Match report

Lincoln City v Chelsea U21: Checkatrade Trophy - Semi Final Photo by Clive/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Chelsea’s youth teams are known for playing lovely modern, progressive, possession-based, attack-oriented football. There wasn’t much of that on display Tuesday night at last year’s FA Cup quarterfinalists Lincoln City’s sold-out Sincil Bank. Instead, the Chelsea Development squad showed a few more, shall we say, classical values. Strong defending with backs to the wall. Getting stuck in. Closing down. Staying strong. Resilient. Showing fight, spirit, determination. Gritting their teeth and gutting out a 1-1 draw in regulation.

In the always harsh lottery of the penalty kick shootout however, it were the hosts who prevailed. Credit to them for doing what needed to be done; credit to the Chelsea boys for getting this far.

For much of the game, Chelsea looked likely to grind out the result necessary to advance to the final. The hosts, going strong in League Two and with just one loss to their name since Thanksgiving were looking for their first ever trip to Wembley. Lincoln’s aerial bombardment was impressive but one-note, and the back line marshaled quite excellently by 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu were standing tall to it. That the boys of Chelsea were going toe-to-toe with men ten years their senior, including the 6’4” hulking frame of Matt Rhead was precisely the learning Chelsea were looking for when they agreed to enter this competition. The Baby Blues were passing with a solid enough grade.

The first-half was certainly an education, but the boys slowly came to grips with the task at hand. They did not have a whiff of the Lincoln goal until the 52nd minute, when Callum Hudson-Odoi flashed a bit of skill and hammered a shot towards the far post, but could’ve been ahead not much later when captain Ruben Sammut guided a shot wide of the wide open goal’s far post.

Just when it looked like Chelsea had grown into the game, Lincoln went ahead. No surprise that the goal came from a cross and a far post header; Reece James standing not much chance of winning the aerial duel against Lincoln captain Luke Waterfall.

Chelsea’s response was a sight to behold. First, Hilario protege Marcin Bulka made a stunning double-save to keep Chelsea in the game. Then Hudson-Odoi took over, running, dribbling, creating havoc. Lincoln were ahead for barely five minutes when he beat the entire Imps right-hand side, putting in a low cross that ran all the way through to St Clair. His wide-angle shot was blocked, but Daishawn Redan found the rebound and equalized with Batshuayi-esque aplomb.

Neither side found a winner in regulation despite the referee inexplicably extending added-on time by 50 per cent, and so a penalty kick shootout followed, as per competition rules.

Lincoln went first and missed, with a rasping effort saved onto the crossbar by Bulka, then bouncing down and out. Did the ball cross the line on the bounce down? The referee said no and no replays were shown.

Kylian Hazard, a late substitute, then put Chelsea ahead, but Ampadu, going next because of the A-B-B-A format, crashed his take against the post.

Whitehouse brought the Imps level on 1, then Palmer put them ahead, beating Bulka with the power of the shot.

Chelsea’s Maddox went next but his shot was saved before St Clair scored. But Lincoln were in the driving seat now. And they duly converted their next two takes to advance. The pitch invasion was a bit much though.

An unfortunate end then to the Checkatrade Trophy campaign for Chelsea, who did not lose a single match in regulation, but did lose three times on penalties (twice in the group stage). A fantastic learning experience, to be sure, with Ethan Ampadu and Marcin Bulka, and in flashes Hudson-Odoi also, acquitting themselves especially well today. The defeat will sting, but the future looks bright.

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