Belatedly, Chelsea’s 2009/10 FA Youth Cup campaign got underway this cold December Monday night, some two weeks after it was originally scheduled to, but the Blues weren’t to be so easily sidetracked. They came away from The Valley with a well-fought 2-1 win against a hard-working Charlton team, who with more cutting edge in attack may well have produced something of an upset.
With the competition deemed an important aspect of the season by the academy, coach Dermot Drummy was able to call upon Reserve team regulars in Conor Clifford (who captained the side), Josh McEachran, Gokhan Tore, Jacopo Sala and Milan Lalkovic in an ultra-attacking, talent-heavy team. With Jeffrey Bruma filling in at centre-back because of a lack of available alternatives, there was even a first team squad representative. In goal, Sam Walker made his first appearance since breaking his foot back in October, which was a relief to those who will have seen Aldi Haxhia cost the same team a win at Arsenal ten days ago with two late mistakes. In front of a healthy but cold crowd at the Addicks’ stadium, their campaign started.
It was nearly a calamitous start though. Inside the first ten minutes a cross from Liam Bellamy appeared to be a routine collection for Walker, but he failed to command the ball and it fell to Tamer Tuna at the far post. He managed to get the ball down but his shot lacked purchase and Daniel Mills Pappoe cleared the ball from the goalline. His clearance was unconvincing however, and so ensued a comical scene where Walker played a pass out to the left wing whilst standing almost in his own net. The goalkeeper’s kicking would be largely erratic all night, perhaps a consequence of his recent foot injury, but it wasn’t a particularly auspicious start in any event.
It was, at least, to prove a rare foray into attack for the hosts, who saw less of the ball as Chelsea settled into their stride. Marko Mitrovic had the first effort on goal with a tame header from Gokhan Tore’s corner, and after the Turkish Under-21 international embarrassed Jordan Cousins down the left, he played McEachran in. A quick spin on the ball created a chance, but the shot was blocked well by Yado Mambo, preventing Jack Binks from a potentially tough save. He had to make one minutes later from Lalkovic as the pressure intensified, and the Slovakian was involved in the opening goal midway through the first half.
Chelsea won a free kick out wide on the left hand side, and after some deliberation, Lalkovic was the nominated taker. With Drummy barking out positional orders from the dugout, it required a perfect delivery. The young winger was up to the task, dropping a beautiful delivery into the area where Bruma was able to rise highest in a crowd and flick the ball past the advancing Binks and into the back of the net. With a goal in the bag and confidence high, the young Blues really hit their stride and began to flood forwards with verve and a swagger. Sala cut inside from the left and stung Binks’ hands from twenty yards, and although Mitrovic went looking for a penalty from the rebound, the referee was rightly having none of it.
Aziz Deen-Conteh, perhaps only starting at left back because Billy Knott was suspended, was having a fantastic first half and almost hit the headlines with a powerful 70 yard run from the edge of one box to the other, beating five men before he was felled. The referee played an advantage as the ball had fallen to Mitrovic but on his weaker foot, a curling right footed shot was easily saved and Deen-Conteh’s run had deserved more.
Chelsea’s profligacy in front of goal had rarely threatened to come back and haunt them, but Charlton gave them food for thought in the closing stages of the half when Walker was forced into two good saves. The first came from a scramble after a corner, where he managed to get in the way of a shot despite laying prone on the floor, and the second after Tuna had sprung the offside trap and attempted to finish at the near post. Sala had Chelsea’s final moments of the half, firstly managing to miss an open goal (which he will be relieved to know was for nothing as the offside flag had been raised), then sending a skidding low effort which Binks turned away well. With just a goal between the two as the teams retreated to the warm dressing rooms, the game was still in the balance.
Charlton clearly felt there was something there for the taking, introducing striker Adebayo Azeez for the second half and attempting to force the issue. With Sala becoming more of a second striker throughout the evening it left Clifford and McEachran as a two in midfield, and they were starting to be overrun by the energetic Freddie Warren and Lewis Perkins and the lively Harry Pell. Tuna and then captain Carl Jenkinson had efforts they will have wanted to do better with in the first ten minutes of the second stanza, before Bruma strode forward with authority, releasing Lalkovic, who put in a stunning cross which nobody got on the end of. Gokhan Tore collected the ball on the other side and did the same thing, a frustrating moment for the visitors.
That was about it for highlights in the first twenty minutes of the half, as the game became very scrappy and low on quality. Pell brought everyone’s attentions back into the game when he went close with a placed effort from outside the area, and when Chelsea woke back up, Lalkovic’s cross looped over Binks and hit the crossbar before bouncing towards safety. Kaby and Bobby Devyne replaced McEachran and Lalkovic respectively, whilst Mills Pappoe headed over whilst under duress from another top quality free kick delivery.
With the game heading towards the final stages Mitrovic had a gilt-edged chance to seal Chelsea’s place in the next round, being played through beyond the last man. His first touch was excellent but he tried to beat the advancing Binks with his weaker foot and spurned yet another chance by putting it wide. Still, the Blues had found their second wind and when Sala won a corner with a low shot following a flowing team move, they finally did give their lead breathing room. The resultant delivery was flicked on at the near post by Bruma and Mitrovic swept the loose ball into the back of the net from six yards to make it 2-0. His celebrations told the story of a night of frustration, but one which was to end in success.
Or was it? Four minutes of added time gave Charlton a glimmer of hope, which turned into a full blown crack of light three quarters of the way through when Cousins slammed in a shot from twenty yards after a corner was poorly cleared. It hit a body on the way through and beat Walker to give the Blues a nervy last sixty seconds, but they saw themselves home and booked a fourth round clash away to Nottingham Forest. It was a mixed performance, with a very good first half followed by a sloppy second, but the likes of McEachran, Deen-Conteh (especially) and Mills Pappoe had strong outings, whilst nobody did themselves a particular injustice. Charlton worked hard and looked a much better team than the one which lost at Cobham earlier this season, but lacked any real firepower in attack. With somebody to put half chances away, they might’ve been the victor on another night.
Team: Walker, B.Clifford, Mills Pappoe, Bruma, Deen-Conteh, C.Clifford (c), McEachran (Kaby 72), Sala, Lalkovic (Devyne 75), Gokhan Tore, Mitrovic
Goals: Bruma ’27, Mitrovic ’79