YOUNG BLUES FALL FLAT AT FULHAM
Chelsea’s good recent form in the FA Premier Academy League came grinding to a halt, perhaps aptly at Fulham’s Motspur Park training ground, within spitting distance of railway lines. Goals from Danny Hoesen, Karim Laribi and Alex Smith ensured Gary Brazil’s Cottagers ran out comfortable winners after some fine recent form of their own.
Dermot Drummy’s selection looked a little on the tame side, with no exceptional attacking focus. Tom Hayden made a rare appearance at centre half, with Rohan Ince moving into a three man midfield full of defensive ability with captain Daniel Philliskirk and Conor Clifford, but the only attacking players showcased were Adam Phillip, Jacopo Sala, and Marko Mitrovic. With Niclas Heimann covering for the concussed Rhys Taylor at Reserve level, Jan Sebek donned the goalkeeping gloves.
A scrappy start saw some early midfield battles, often won by the stocky Fulham midfielder Luca Moscatiello. The equally squat Michael Uwezu in attack worked hard to put the Blues under early pressure, but it was the visitors to have the first opening. Phillip found a little space but his near post shot was easily snaffled by England youth international Wesley Foderingham.
Moscatiello’s drive from midfield gave the home side impetus, ably supported by Laribi from right back, and the wide play of Keanu Marsh-Brown and Jordan Wilson. Uwezu ran onto a through ball and rounded the hesitant Sebek, but the angle was against the striker and although his pull back hit Nikki Ahmed, Hayden was able to clear it off the line. It was a rare moment of danger towards the Chelsea goal in the first half, despite Fulham having the better of the possession.
The Blues were getting little change out of full backs Laribi and Smith, and despite Phillip and Sala switching wings, the best play came from Clifford in the middle of the park. The Irish youngster broke up play well and looked to feed Mitrovic, who often battled gamely but saw little by way of support. Chelsea’s problem in midfield was a lack of positional discipline and spacial awareness. Schoolboy Ince found this a particular problem – on many occasions his back line questioned his positioning when looking for an outlet pass, and were instead left to hit and hope.
For all the breakdowns in play however, the Blues went closest yet after half an hour. Tabor’s wicked swinging corner was glanced towards goal by Hayden and hit the crossbar. Phillip controlled the rebound but it was scrambled away to safety. It was to prove a crucial moment, for minutes later the hosts went ahead in controversial circumstances. A deep pass over the top went between Ahmed and Saville, with the centre back taking the lead to deal with it. Danny Hoesen, however, surged inside the Chelsea defender, shrugged him off, and poked the ball high past Sebek.
Saville was incensed, feeling Hoesen had unfairly pushed him aside, but in truth he should have been stronger and more aware of his surroundings. Nonetheless, he conceded an immediate free kick from kickoff for continued dissent, one which Moscatiello sent fizzing towards goal. Sebek held it easily to nullify the final action of the first half.
In unusually warm and bright weather for Feburary, the second half kicked off with the players glad of the opportunity for refreshment. Fulham were enthused by their one goal lead and were keen to add to it. Chelsea were looking lethargic and uninspired in attack, with only Ahmed and Clifford ever carrying a threat. Duly, within ten minutes of the restart, Fulham had a second goal and a margin of lead they essentially deserved.
Laribi broke out from right back to bring the play into the midfield. He didn’t stop though, carrying on his run, and after some fine interplay, Marsh-Brown played him in at the edge of the area. He found the bottom corner with his weak foot, showing an accomplished attacking play to an already impressive defensive outing. Drummy’s immediate response was to take off Philliskirk for Kaby, handing Clifford the captaincy.
Kaby’s energy meant greater pressure on the Fulham defence but such was the size of Pierre Hall and casual dominance of captain Troy Brown that they were never really worried. Uwezu really should have added another, played in over the top, but when Sebek fell over, he rushed his chance and sent his 30-yard lob bouncing wide when a more composed finish would surely have reaped rewards. Drummy, now chasing a two-goal deficit, began to make further attacking changes, bringing Milan Lalkovic on for the disappointing Mitrovic, and Ben Gordon on for Jack Saville, pushing Jordan Tabor on into attack.
The increased numbers up the field worked well, but only to a point. Lalkovic was impressive as a lone striker, showing surprising strength and aerial ability for a winger with flair simialr to his countryman Miroslav Stoch, and with Clifford’s brilliant tackling and Ahmed’s endless energy, the pressure built. The problem for Chelsea was the lack of a cutting edge.
A deep Sala cross found Phillip at the far post but his header was poor and directed at the grateful Foderingham. Lalkovic then followed that with a deft chip to free Phillip, but the bounce on the ball made the chance awkward. Clifford fired one over from range, Phillip wide from the edge of the box, and then the best chance fell from a scrappy corner, where Hayden was denied on the line by a quite brilliant (and brave) block from Brown, who was in pain at preventing the chance, but was soon up and running again.
The failure to break through saw Chelsea heads drop, and late on Fulham rounded off a fine day with a third. A struggle to emerge from their own corner allowed a ball across the face of the area, where left back Smith – now playing in midfield – was able to strike the ball cleanly in off the post, Sebek helpless with no defenders back. It was nearly four in stoppage time, a goalmouth scramble seeing Hoesen hitting the post and Sebek making two last ditch saves to at least keep some respectability.
Fulham were impressive as a team, especially in the transition from defence to attack, and were good value for their win. Chelsea, for all their late pressure and chances, never once forced a good save from Foderingham and there was never a sense that they were going to score. Clifford and Ahmed were impressive, but as a whole the team didn’t pass well, communicated poorly and will need to bounce back from this drubbing with a performance with more verve and creativity – one which today sorely lacked.
Fulham: Foderingham, Laribi, Hall, Brown (c), Smith, Moscatiello, Jones, Wilson, Marsh-Brown (unknown sub 75), Hoesen, Uwezu
Chelsea: Sebek, Ahmed, Hayden, Saville (Gordon 80), Tabor, Ince, Clifford, Philliskirk (c) (Kaby 60), Phillip, Sala, Mitrovic (Lalkovic 77)
Goals: Hoesen 40, Laribi 58, Smith 85