Back in October, Chelsea’s Reserves travelled to Stoke’s Brittania Stadium to face a team in which every member had football league experience, and came away with a last-minute 3-2 defeat. In the return fixture on Wednesday evening, Steve Holland’s boys won for the first time in four games in impressive fashion, for this time theirs was the far more experienced side.
Holland was able to include Jeffrey Bruma, Gael Kakuta, Nemanja Matic, Daniel Sturridge and Fabio Borini from the start, all of whom have Premier League playing time this season. In addition, Carl Magnay, Patrick van Aanholt, Jacob Mellis and captain Liam Bridcutt have football league experience, whilst Rhys Taylor has been out on loan as an understudy. That left just schoolboy centre-back Daniel Mills Pappoe without such representation, and in stark contrast, Stoke’s team was an entirely academy-based side, with the first team squad in Premier League action away to Burnley.
If on paper the sides looked ill-matched, when the two teams took to the eerily quiet Cobham evening, it became more apparent. The club’s next two reserve fixtures (this included) have been moved from Brentford’s Griffin Park due to dissatisfaction with the quality of the playing surface, and the lush green pitch in home confines provided confidence for Chelsea to knock the ball about at will, taking an early hold of the game which they would not relinquish at any point.
Kakuta was the first to force goalkeeper Dave Parton into action on what would be a busy night for the Potters’ stopper, firing in fiercly from outside the area but was unable to find the net. Sturridge quickly followed him by putting an effort just wide of the target and with very few interruptions, the match was flying by at some pace. Sturridge caused a momentary worry of concern midway through the first half by pulling up short on a sprint, feeling his hamstring, but he was able to continue and looked like it was nothing of any concern.
It had been all Chelsea with not a peep of a word from Stoke and shortly before the half hour mark, the hosts had the goal their play deserved. Mellis flicked a cross goalwards only to see it rebound off the crossbar. Sturridge was waiting in position to put the ball into the back of the net with a simple tap in to make it 1-0. It woke the visitors from their youthful slumber, and Taylor’s attention was caught for the first time all night when a long-range free kick was headed close to his goal.
However, it was their newly-found attacking instincts which would cost them as Chelsea made it 2-0 before half time. Kakuta broke up play in his own half and fed Sturridge, who sped through on goal looking to add to his opener. Parton made a good save but the rebound fell to Kakuta, who had kept running, and was able to reap rewards by slamming the ball in to extend the Blues’ advantage to two. Bruma went close to making it three on the stroke of the break with a lob but it was to be just the two as both sides retreated to the changing rooms for an interval.
Holland made one change at half time, introducing Nana Ofori-Twumasi for Mills Pappoe. With the swap, Chelsea’s coach ensured that every one of his players on the field now had football league experience, with Ofori-Twumasi having spent six weeks on loan at Bournemouth earlier this season. The dominance continued unabated – it wasn’t frenetic or one-way traffic, but you never got the impression that Stoke could pose a tangible threat, and Chelsea were able to play their game with time, space and confidence.
The next fifteen minutes up to the hour mark were a quiet affair, with the home team content with their lead and the visitors looking to contain the damage as best possible. With three quarters of the game in the books, the third goal arrived, and it was Sturridge again who found the mark. Van Aanholt provided the cross, and it was expertly lobbed back across Parton into the corner of the net on the volley. Matic then looked to add to the tally with a neat and tidy effort, and with the game in the bag, Chelsea were able to express themselves in the final stages.
Magnay summed this up beautifully by trying his luck from distance, but his effort went way, way over the crossbar. Borin was rested after a week of illness as Marko Mitrovic got a ten-minute runout as he continues to take early steps at this level. He wasn’t able to add to his single goal, notched in his first start away to West Ham last time out, and the referee brought an end to proceedings for a 3-0 win, and a very comfortable night for the club’s second string. They will have expected to dominate with the difference in experience but it should still be noted that Chelsea’s was a young team itself, and are back to winning ways.
Team: Taylor, Bruma (c), Mills Pappoe (Ofori-Twumasi 45), Magnay, van Aanholt, Bridcutt, Matic, Mellis, Kakuta, Borini, Sturridge
Goals: Sturridge 29, 65, Kakuta 40