The 2008/09 season hasn’t been kind for Chelsea or Charlton at academy level. Stuck at the bottom of Group A, both teams have long since turned their attentions to next year and using a slew of schoolboys from the Under-16s, players who will be regular scholars next season. Chelsea won this end-of-season affair which at times threatened to become more than it should have because of an over-zealous referee, but Charlton were better than their 3-1 defeat truly told.
Dermott Drummy was able to mix experience with youth, selecting Jacob Mellis and Tom Taiwo in midfield whilst schoolboys Rohan Ince, Milan Lalkovic and Josh McEachran continued increased presence in the team this season. He did, however, take an opportunity to test players in different roles, with Jacopo Sala at right-back, Nikki Ahmed at left-back, Ben Gordon at centre-half, Mellis in a more defensive midfield role, and Daniel Philliskirk leading the line in attack.
The match started in grey and damp conditions but with sunlight breaking through as morning reached noon, conditions were fantastic for football. The quiet opening to the match perhaps reflected a clash between two teams already looking to next season, with Tom Taiwo’s experience telling in the middle of the park. In red, the tall Harry Pell was controlling things, although a defensive-minded 4-5-1 approach was doing lone striker Lewis Perkins no help. Chances were few and far between, with long shots from Alex Stavrinou and Jacob Mellis missing the target, whilst better openings for Lalkovic and Steven Camacho were saved and wide respectively.
It took a mistake from goalkeeper Harry Lee to allow Chelsea to take the lead. Coming out to receive a loose ball wide on the right, he ignored a simple pass to full-back Liam Bellamy ahead of him in favour of a kick downfield. His connection however was poor, and landed at McEachran’s feet 35 yards out. He killed the ball and casually volleyed into the empty net for a very impressive goal. It was just about fair on the way the game had gone, but Charlton very much should have been level by half time, as Camacho took advantage of a mis-calculation by Ahmed and bore down on Sam Walker’s goal, but the giant custodian was down quickly to smartly save a low drive to preserve the lead.
Charlton replaced Perkins with the energetic Ajayi in attack and sought to take the game to the hosts. After an early Lalkovic foray gave Philliskirk a chance at the near post, the Addicks started to get a grip on the game, with winger Tamer Tuna looking impressive. Walker made a fabulous point-blank save after some fine work from Tuna, and Ajayi skipped through before missing wide of the right post, but he didn’t have to wait long before scoring the goal the team’s second half performance warranted.
Chelsea over-committed from a corner and somehow left nobody back. Ajayi was freed through, onside as he was in his own half. He was caught by desperate blue shirts but wriggled and weaved into enough space to work a shooting opportunity and slotted low past the orange-clad Walker into the bottom corner. As ever, the goal spurred Chelsea back into action, stirring them from a sleepy fifteen minutes. Drummy began to introduce substitutes, first Adam Phillip, followed by Kaby and Jordan Tabor, and saw Lalkovic bend a first-time effort just over the bar.
With time running out, Sala was pushed into attack (with the introduction of Tabor) to push the visitors back. The referee began to show yellow cards willy-nilly, taking an aggressive approach to a midfield battle which had seen many a foul on Mellis, and some retaliation from the Chelsea man in the form of late niggles. As the sun continued to shine down, it was Chelsea who had the stronger legs, and took the lead with ten minutes remaining. Phillip came inside from the right and drilled a slightly hopeful effort with his left foot from the edge of the box. The goalkeeper saved it, pushing it up in the air, but hadn’t evaluated his positioning well, and was helpess as the ball bounced over the line behind him, despite his dramatic attempts to scramble a clearance.
It broke Charlton’s resolve and within a minute Chelsea had put the game to bed. A beautiful flowing move saw Lalkovic cross, Philliskirk flick it back, and Sala volley a swift volley into the corner without breaking stride. The two-goal lead was harsh on a hard-working Charlton team who had their own chances, but they didn’t take them, whilst their foes in blue did. Chelsea’s confidence once ahead was tangible, but on the flip side their attitude when under pressure allowed Charlton to take full advantage. Too often this season blue heads have dropped after conceding, so today’s recovery is a positive sign.
There were a number of good outings from Chelsea, given many of the players were out of position. Mellis and Taiwo showed their class in midfield, Sala showed great versatility and ability in defence, whilst Sam Walker put in one of his best showings in goal. Gokhan Tore worked hard and showed good strength, as did Philliskirk in a striker’s role he hasn’t played in some time. Perhaps the best performance was from Adam Phillip, who used his injury rehabilitation to bulk up physically. He was a complete presence when he came on, running endlessly, powering through, and scoring a crucial goal. Off the back of signing a professional contract, he’s a happy boy.
Team: Walker, Sala, Ince, Gordon, Ahmed, Taiwo (Tabor 75), Mellis, McEachran (Kaby 72), Gokhan (Phillip 62), Lalkovic, Philliskirk
Goals: McEachran 41, Phillip 83, Sala 84