Chelsea’s first reserve league fixture since November 23rd – that’s 56 days for those of you counting – took place in the empty yet familiar confines of the club’s Cobham training ground on Monday night, and Steve Holland’s boys got 2010 off to a winning start with a well deserved but close-fought 2-0 win over Wolves. A spectacular effort from Gael Kakuta added to Daniel Sturridge’s first half opener to seal the impressive win.
Holland had a healthy squad to choose his selection from, aided by first-team fringe overspill and returning loanees. He gave starts to Nemanja Matic, Fabio Borini, Kakuta and Sturridge, as well as welcoming back Patrick van Aanholt and Jack Cork, with fellow loanees Liam Bridcutt and Jacob Mellis amongst the subs. Carl Magnay returned from injury and Rhys Taylor made a rare outing in goal, having spent a month with QPR. With the FA Youth Cup taking priority this month, the likes of Daniel Mills Pappoe and Josh McEachran were afforded a rest, meaning a start for Kenny Strickland alongside Magnay in defence.
Wolves sent out a younger team than in the reverse fixture late in 2009 when they started Sam Vokes and Chris Iwelumo, bringing back four loanees themselves and including highly-rated midfielder Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. In front of Carlo Ancelotti, Ray Wilkins, John Terry and interested observers from league and youth international squads, Chelsea got going early and looked in lively form, earning a few corners and testing young Irish signing Aaron McCarey in goal through Sturridge inside the first ten minutes. Van Aanholt then sought to show his improvement from a spell at Coventry by taking off on a marauding run but his effort from distance was high and not very handsome.
Some promising build-up play through the midfield – which included four very capable players on the night – was encouraging but the end product wasn’t arriving, not for Sturridge’s lack of will. He went close again midway through the half but found the side netting, but the visitors ensured that the Blues were awake at the back when Ashley Hemmings took advantage of a mistake by Matic to send a dipping volley over Taylor’s bar. It was to be Hemmings’ final involvement though, as he failed to shake off an injury inflicted by Cork and was replaced by Jack Price.
As the first half threatened to peter out into a goalless interval, Sturridge struck to open the scoring. The former Manchester City man earned a free kick which Cork delivered into the area, and he was on hand to turn the ball past McCarey from close range to get the goal his effort and desire had deserved. He even found room to have two more attempt at goal before the turnaround, and to be honest Wolves would be struggling to find any positives from the half. They didn’t start the second period in any better fashion either, with more Chelsea possession being turned into corners and chances, but no goals. Kakuta should have made more of Sturridge’s good work but flashed a wayward shot, then the same man provided for Borini, but he too was unable to convert.
Sturridge, easily the man of the match, was afforded a rest on the hour, being replaced by Mellis, and it appeared as if his withdrawal took something out of the hosts. The tempo slowed and there wasn’t the same energy about the performance, which almost manifested itself in a Wolves leveller. Mendez-Laing showed a glimpe of his ability and provided a cross for Kyle Bennett, who had the goal gaping. However, the man who once scored a hat-trick as an Under-18 in a friendly on the same pitch in 2008 somehow contrived to miss when it was almost easier to score. A real let-off for Chelsea, they set about righting the wrong and putting the game to bed.
Mellis had the first chance but spurned it, and after Wolves had another spell where they threatened Taylor’s goal, Kakuta secured the points with a superb effort from at least 25 yards out which left the goalkeeper with no chance. The Frenchman had been quiet for much of the match but showed his explosive talent and ability to conjure magic from almost nowhere. Bridcutt and Gokhan Tore got late action in relief for Matic and Borini, and the referee called time on a good outing for an experienced team who will all individually be looking to take big steps in the next few weeks and months.
Team: Taylor, B. Clifford, Strickland, Magnay, van Aanholt, Cork, Matic (Bridcutt 86), C. Clifford, Kakuta, Borini (Gokhan Tore 79), Sturridge (Mellis 60)
Goals: Sturridge ’40, Kakuta ’82