IT may not have been Fernando Torres but a Chelsea number nine took centre stage at Oriel Park on Tuesday night as the European champions’ reserve team overcame Dundalk by a solitary goal.
The Carrick Road venue was packed to capacity for the glamour friendly and they were treated to a decent game in which Darius Kierans’ team gave a good account of themselves.
Michael Rafter went closest for the home side, hitting the post in the first-half, and there was very little between the two sides until Patrick Banford popped up with the winner in the 85th minute.
The teams took to the pitch flanked by a number of mascots who carried a ‘Save Our Club’ banner, reminding fans of the objective behind the friendly.
As the teams limbered up, one could have mistaken Chelsea centre-back Nathan Ake for David Luiz, the understudy rocking a similar haircut to the Brazilian first team player.
Chelsea were first to threaten when a mistake by Eoghan Osborne allowed Billy Clifford the opportunity to strike at goal in the 5th minute but his effort just cleared the crossbar.
At the other end Stephen Maher found himself in a good position to play a telling ball but his ball across goal was easily cut out by Chelsea keeper Mitchell Beeney.
Play switched down the other end and when Lewis Baker slipped Todd Kane in behind the Dundalk back four it looked as though Chelsea would hit the front but the full-back put his effort wide.
Dundalk’s first opening arrived in the 16th minute. Chris Reilly’s pass inside found the inrushing Stephen Maher but his first-time effort with the outside of the boot didn’t pose a threat to Beeney’s goal.
The hosts went within inches of taking the lead four minutes later. A well worked move involving Maher, Chris Shields and Osborne ended with Michael Rafter hitting the post from 25-yards with Beeney rooted to the spot.
A quiet spell followed with both sides stroking the ball around at a leisurely pace but Chelsea should have taken the lead in the 34th minute. Kane raided down the right again to get a good cross into the box but Patrick Banford somehow slid the ball wide from no more than three yards out.
Drogheda United’s Michael Schlingermann was guesting in goal for the home side and he was called into action for the first time in the 41st minute when he got down to his right to gather a Billy Clifford shot.
The visitors flew out of the traps in the second-half and almost took the lead within seconds of the restart. George Saville’s ball took Stephen McDonnell out of it to set Billy Clifford away but his shot struck the post.
Chelsea introduced Alex Kiwomya in the 55th minute and he was involved seconds later, slipping in Lewis Baker but the no 11 couldn’t control his shot.
At the other end, Gary Shanahan, a half-time replacement for Mark O’Brien, got away from his marker for a moment but he was forced inside and his shot was easily dealt with by Beeney.
The Limerick teenager was looking to make it three goals in as many games and he thought his moment had come in the 71st minute.
Marc Griffin’s pass found him on the left of the box. Shanahan’s header took him inside for a shot but just as he was about to strike a Chelsea defender took the ball off his toe and put it behind for a corner.
The Blues took the lead through Patrick Banford’s close range finish in the 85th minute. Captain Kane was the provider, whipping in a first time cross, and when Andreas Christensen headed the ball back across the face of goal, the Chelsea centre-forward was on hand to tap home.
DUNDALK: Michael Schlingermann (Finnian Farrelly 74), Stephen McDonnell (William Woods 76), Derek Foran (Conor McDonald 68), Paul Whelan, Eoghan Osborne (Nathan Murphy 70), Stephen Maher (Gareth Brady 74), Chris Shields, Mark O’Brien (Gary Shanahan HT), Lorcan Shannon (Paul Walsh 74), Michael Rafter (Marc Griffin 48), Chris Reilly (John Mountney HT).
CHELSEA: Mitchell Beeney, Todd Kane, Tika Musonda (Andreas Christensen HT), Nathan Ake, Aziz Deen Conteh, George Saville, John Swift (Alex Kiwomya 55), Ruben Loftus Cheek (Archange Nkumu 48), Patrick Banford, Lewis Baker. Unused subs: Mark Beeney.
REFEREE: Paul Tuite.