In another quiet week overall for Chelsea’s young loanees, the highlight has to belong to Jack Cork, who after making his way through the football league finally made his Premier League debut. It even came in West London, albeit as a substitute for Burnley away to Fulham.
Cork’s debut opened the week of news last Tuesday as part of a full week of Premier League fixtures. Burnley’s torrid away form continued with a heavy 3-0 defeat at Craven Cottage, but for Chelsea fans, the 56th minute saw a bright moment with the introduction of the England Under-21 international to replace Wade Elliott. Playing in a more advanced central midfield role than his typical anchorman position (something he also did at Coventry), Jack showcased what his game is about, giving the ball short and quick and always being available for the pass. Keen to get involved, he almost made an impact in front of goal, and also made a good saving challenge at the other end, showing that whilst it’s not his preference to dive into challenges, he can do when called upon. At the very least, he looked the part at the top level.
Tuesday night was also predictably unproductive for Scott Sinclair, who was yet again confined to the subs bench for Wigan, who drew 1-1 at home to Stoke City. In the Championship, Ryan Bertrand and Reading continued their resurgence and improved home form with a stoppage time winner over Plymouth to triumph 2-1. His 90 minutes, as is familiar by now, was greeted with inconsistent reaction by Royals fans, with some claiming him to have been outstanding, whilst others were not so enamoured, claiming he was isolated and ill-disciplined positionally. For the other Blues left back in the division, it was a painful night, with Patrick van Aanholt’s Newcastle crashing to a rare defeat, 3-0 at Derby. The Dutchman was withdrawn 25 minutes from time as Chris Hughton desperately tried to throw on more attacking options, but it was a bad day at the office for all.
Wednesday’s Premier League action saw Michael Mancienne start, whilst Franco Di Santo remainder on the bench unused for Blackburn, who beat Hull 1-0 at Ewood Park. Mancienne started in midfield against Tottenham and had another solid performance as his side held onto an early goal for a well-earned 1-0 victory, meaning they had achieved a double over their North London opponents. Whilst Michael’s form and playing time increases, Franco’s has drastically decreased since the turn of the year, which is another concerning development for a Chelsea loanee this season. With just one goal to his name, he has started less and less since extending his stay at the Lancashire club, and must get back into contention in the coming weeks to salvage something positive to go forward with.
It was a weekend off for Michael, Scott and Franco though, as all of their sides had been eliminated from the FA Cup, which reached the Fifth Round stage. Bertrand was in action against Championship pace-setters West Brom, and faces the prospect of a last eight tie against either Aston Villa or Crystal Palace should they overcome the Baggies in a replay next week. Saturday’s game finished 2-2 with opposing left back Joe Mattock earning a late equaliser, with the Royals having twice led through Jimmy Kebe and Simon Church. Ryan was arguably at fault for the first of the two equalisers in failing to show Chris Brunt onto his weaker foot, but had little defensive help from Kebe and recovered to have a decent afternoon.
Van Aanholt’s Newcastle went a second game without victory as they were only able to draw 1-1 away to stingy Swansea, but he put in a hard-working, tenacious performance highlighted by outdoing three opponents on the edge of the opposition area to earn a free kick in a dangerous position. Despite playing well, his stay at St. James’ Park will not be extended, at Chelsea’s request, but boss Hughton has spoken highly of his temporary starlet:
“You have take into consideration what he is – he’s a 19-year-old player, and this is his first season (of first-team football). He’s played quite a few games at Coventry earlier in the season, and he’s still a young, developing player. When you take that into consideration, he hasn’t let us down. I think there’s no doubt (Jose) Enrique’s having such a good season, that you’re going to miss him. He’s very powerful, and has a big influence on a game. Patrick is a young man still very much learning the game, but he’s come in and he’s been able to hold his own at such a high level.”
In Holland, FC Twente returned to winning ways after suffering their first league defeat last weekend, but left it dramatically late to claim three points against Vitesse Arnhem. Miroslav Stoch hit the crossbar with a header in the opening stages but his side fell behind to Paul Verhaegh’s 50th minute opener. Bryan Ruiz equalised with just eight minutes to go, and Ronnie Stam clinched a superb comeback in stoppage time to keep Steve McClaren’s men in touch with PSV, who remain unbeaten. Slobodan Rajkovic was an unused sub, and is not quite match fit after a heel problem.
Our final port of call is Croatia, where Matej Delač is still taking part in winter friendlies, awaiting the resumption of competition at the end of the month. This week has seen back to back clean sheets for the prodigious young stopper, against NK Triglav in a 1-0 win, and then against NK Celje in a goalless draw.