In a rescheduled academy league fixture, Chelsea’s Under-18s fought back from two goals down this lunchtime at Sparrows Lane to earn a 2-2 draw from Charlton Athletic, who they had beaten twice already this season. On another day, the Blues may have won, as they also saw three efforts denied by the woodwork.
Dermott Drummy took the chance to rotate his squad around a little, with a rserve fixture on the agenda next Monday before the FA Youth Cup away to Watford on Wednesday. Reserve teamers Jan Sebek and Daniel Philliskirk, both in desperate need of playing time, were handed starts, whilst Rohan Ince started his first full game of the season after a serious knee injury. He partnered Daniel Mills-Pappoe in central defence, with Nathaniel Chalobah away on international duty, whilst Milan Lalkovic headed the attack on his own after recovering from a hamstring strain.
The Addicks may have won a friendly reserve fixture 2-0 at Cobham this week but Chelsea flew out of the blocks and were unlucky not to have taken a second minute lead, when Billy Clifford’s speculative long-range effort came flying back off the crossbar. Josh McEachran had a chance with the rebound, but failed to find the target. Minutes later Aziz Deen-Conteh saw a header denied by a goal-line clearance, leaving the Blues perplexed as to how they weren’t ahead in this game. Kaby and Lalkovic followed up with efforts of their own but failed to make them count, providing Charlton with a let-off and room to breathe as they played their way into the game.
They didn’t have much by way of chances though, and it was still Chelsea forcing the issue. Lalkovic and Clifford had decent efforts which failed to worry Jack Binks, and Adebayo Azeez threatened for Charlton, but completely against the run of play the hosts took the lead shortly before the half hour mark. Freddie Warren flicked a ball over the top and Azeez used his strength and pace to get in behind and nudge the ball past Sebek, leaving the giant Czech embarrassed with a nutmeg.
In response, Chelsea hit the woodwork for the second time in the half. Lalkovic beat his man and rounded Binks, leaving the goal gaping (save for Joe Carter on the line), but couldn’t tuck his chance away and found the crossbar again. It was a gilt-edged opportunity and one they didn’t look like getting again as the first half came to a close with the hosts leading by a solitary, and undeserved goal. Drummy reacted by making two changes at the break, resting Ince – who is not quite match fit yet – and Lalkovic for replacements Kenny Strickland and Bobby Devyne.
Perhaps a little downcast that their dominance in the first half had failed to yield an advantage, Chelsea heads appeared to have dropped and Charlton came out for the second half keen to grab a second goal. Steve Camacho broke forward from midfield and unleashed a surprisingly powerful effort which had Sebek both scrambling and beaten, but it kept to the outside of the post and away for a goal kick. Coach Damian Matthew – an ex-Blue – then introduced Tamer Tuna, a forward with first-team experience, and it was his presence which led to the second goal.
Tuna received the ball from the left wing and worked an opening for Warren. His effort was well saved by Sebek but the ball fell to Tosan Popo, and the former Blues schoolboy slotted home to give the hosts a clear advantage with half an hour to go. If they were to take anything back to Cobham with them, Chelsea would have to react quickly and they did so. Anderson cleared off the line to deny Chelsea for a second time in that fashion, before opportunity was handed to them on a plate.
Devyne, quiet for his twenty minutes or so on the pitch, got a chance to run at the Charlton defence and open his legs to show his pace off. He got in behind and skipped past goalkeeper Binks, who brought the Kenyan-born forward down in the box. A penalty was awarded, and Philliskirk duly stepped up to score and halve the deficit.
With the bit firmly between their teeth and something tangible to work for, Chelsea upped the tempo and were mighty unfortunate not to be level three minutes later when a goalmouth scramble saw Clifford prod an effort goalwards. This time he was denied by the post, the second time this season he has struck the frame of the goal twice in the same fixture. They were not to be denied though, and with ten minutes left on the watch Philliskirk found a pocket of space at the near post and fired an effort low into the back of the net to make it 2-2.
McEachran came close to earning a late winner with a free kick which was well parried by Binks, but despite deserving all three points, Chelsea had to make do with one. A positive performance with lots of attacking verve and threat from a team featuring one real forward is a positive, but luck was not with them on this day. They will hope to go one better on Wednesday to progress to the FA Youth Cup Semi Finals, where Everton or Blackburn will await.
Team: Sebek, Sampayo, Mills Pappoe, Ince (Strickland 45), Deen-Conteh, Saville, Kaby, B.Clifford, Philliskirk, McEachran, Lalkovic (Devyne 45)
Goals: Philliskirk 67 pen, 79