Noni Madueke and Enzo Fernandez netted at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea battled back from a goal down to beat AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup.
It took a first Chelsea goal from Fernandez to break the visitors’ hearts at Stamford Bridge, after they had stunned home fans to take the lead via midfielder James Tilley’s penalty inside the opening 20 minutes.
Winger Noni Madueke equalised from the spot just before the interval, as an unfamiliar starting XI found it difficult to see off Johnnie Jackson’s team.
Pochettino brought in three players for their full first-team debuts – Mason Burstow, Ian Maatsen and Diego Moreira – but it took the introduction of a more recognised trio in the second half for them to see off the Dons, who were a stubborn defensive match for their Premier League opponents.
Nicolas Jackson, fresh from his first goal for the club against Luton, was introduced and provided a spark that had been absent, with Malo Gusto and Fernandez helping lend Chelsea the required bite.
The World Cup-winner struck the winner 18 minutes from the end after an unfortunate error from goalkeeper Alex Bass, as Wimbledon went down fighting.
The visitors had been awarded a penalty in the 16th minute when Robert Sanchez flew from his goal in an attempt to deal with Morgan Williams’ deep free-kick, instead crashing his fist into the face of Harry Pell. From the spot, Tilley thumped his kick down the centre as Sanchez dived to his right.
Chelsea almost hit back within minutes when Marc Cucurella, in the side despite reported negotiations over a move to Manchester United, carried the ball to the byline and pulled it back for Maatsen who turned cleverly and struck a low left-footed effort. Bass was relieved to see the ball skid inches past his near post off defender Joe Lewis.
On the half-hour mark, Cucurella again was the provider from the left, this time whipping in a cross which Burstow headed narrowly wide.
Madueke, making his first start under Pochettino, looked Chelsea’s best hope of a first-half response, his penetrating runs and movement off the ball as great a threat to Wimbledon’s lead as the home side could muster. But with the visitors camped largely in their own half, there was little room in which to manoeuvre.
Then on the stroke of half-time came a way back. Madueke, on another darting run, won a penalty as Alex Pearce went to ground with a clumsy challenge. The 21-year-old stepped up and capped a fine individual first period by clipping it coolly past Bass for 1-1.
It was the hosts’ only shot on target of the opening 45 minutes despite enjoying 85% of possession but the arrival at half-time of Jackson ignited something in attack.
His clever footwork and vision found Conor Gallagher and Chelsea’s captain for the night finally warmed the hands of Bass with a right-footed shot that was well saved in the 54th minute.
Fernandez was summoned from the bench and almost made an instant impact, striking at goal from 30 yards and drawing a superb two-handed save from Bass at full stretch. He would not have to wait much longer for his first Chelsea goal.
In the 72nd minute a long ball up from the back was hit by the onrushing goalkeeper straight into Jackson, the ball deflecting into Fernandez’s path to give the Argentinian the simple task of bending it into an empty goal with Bass stranded.
The goalkeeper went a long way towards making amends with a flurry of fine saves to keep the score down.
It was a brave showing from him and his team and might it might have earned them a penalty shoot-out had substitute Ali Al-Hamadi’s last-gasp effort not deflected wide off Axel Disasi.
However, Chelsea’s strength in reserve ultimately eased the Blues into the third round.