Chelsea ended their home league campaign in the FA Premier Academy League on Saturday morning with a 4-0 win over Ipswich Town at a wet Cobham. After the euphoria of Tuesday’s FA Youth Cup success the match felt more than a little damp (apt in the drizzling rain) but a good performance ensured a solid victory.
Cup heroes Sam Walker, Aziz Deen-Conteh, Jacopo Sala and captain Conor Cifford all retained starting places but there were changes elsewhere, with Nathaniel Chalobah restored at centre-back, Ben Gordon given a first Under-18 appearance of the season alongside him, and Adam Phillip returning after missing most of the season out injured.
On an alternative pitch to their usual academy outings, with the main pitch already being torn up for summer work, the game started with a bit of tempo in the midfield but little by way of cutting edge in either end of the field. Ipswich looked the more likely to make something happen with some good approach play, but they were unable to make anything happen in front of goal and it took them a good twenty minutes before Walker was really tested. When it arrived, however, the giant stopper was on hand to make a brilliant one-handed stop to claw the ball away from the upper reaches of the goalnet.
Chelsea moved the ball well, with Sala an increasing influence, showing his extra ability and class across the whole field. In attack he was potent and gave his side a threat down the right, and when Sampayo and Chalobah advanced high up the pitch, he was instinctive to cover their places at the back. It is little things like this which reveal the football player inside the footballer, and Sala continues to grow and show these things with every appearance, a most positive sign.
Chalobah was caught out from a long ball over the top, mis-judging the flight of the ball to allow the forward to ghost in behind, but he showed great tenacity to make up the ground and put in a fine challenge to force the chance out for a corner. It’s easy to forget that he only turned 15 a few months ago, such has been the ease with which he has adapted to academy football. Walker made another save following the corner before Chelsea went down the other end and opened the scoring immediately.
Philliskirk picked up the ball in midfield and advanced forwards into space. Afforded such a luxury, he played a slide-rule ball in behind for Phillip to run onto. He took it into his stride, danced around the goalkeeper and tucked it into the back of the net. It was fantastic to see him scoring on his return to action after so long on the sidelines but joy soon turned to sorrow. He had spent the previous five minutes feeling an upper thigh injury and was unable to shake it off. He limped to the sidelines and was replaced by Philipp Prosenik.
Minutes before half time the lead was doubled in controversial fashion. Lalkovic took on the Ipswich left-back and dazzled him with an array of stopovers before jinking outside. The defender went to ground to tackle, and Lalkovic went over, looking to have drawn contact. There didn’t appear to be much of it, but the referee was duly convinced and pointed to the spot, much to the visitor’s dismay.
The Slovakian took the kick himself but it was a poor one, low and central, allowing the goalkeeper to save. He couldn’t hold onto the ball though, allowing Chalobah to steer the rebound home. Ipswich were incensed, feeling that the schoolboy defender had encroached, but the goal stood. Pointed remarks to the official went unpunished, with the Tractor Boys convinced that he had ruined their chances of a win.
Half time saw Sala and Clifford withdrawn after their midweek exploits, with Anton Rodgers and Todd Kane replacing them. Kane, most commonly a right-back, would adopt a right-wing role which paid early dividends. After Philliskirk – now captain – had made it 3-0, Kane swiftly became the second schoolboy on the scoresheet, driving home on his weaker left foot after Lalkovic’s effort from the left came back off the woodwork. In increasingly teaming rain, Ipswich’s heads had dropped, and they were surely looking forward to going home, with the game well out of sight at 4-0 early in the second half.
From that point, Chelsea eased off the gas, taking the time to pass the ball around with confidence and an air of arrogance, one deserved after earning their strong advantage. Efforts from Saville, Rodgers and Prosenik came in from outside the area, whilst Lalkovic and Deen-Conteh found much joy down the left hand side. The former had a lot of possession and came inside on numerous occasions, but often declined to shoot until the opportunity had passed its best point. Quicker decision making could have led to a far more prolific day for both him and the team.
Ipswich had a late and rare second half sight of goal from a free kick but it was wastefully sent high and wide, whilst Rodgers had one of his own at the other end end up in the side netting. With most of the goalmouth action concentrated in the five minutes either side of half time the game largely felt like even more of an end of season affair than usual and the referee brought an end to proceedings with everybody awaiting his whistle, none more keenly than Chris Kiwomya’s boys.
It was a professional performance if anything by Chelsea, who end their home campaign with just one defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace. After a leaky season defensively last year they’ve shored up dramatically and will be hoping for one last hurrah away to Tottenham on Monday lunchtime. Today, Saville, Philliskirk, Deen-Conteh and Sampayo impressed, whilst Gordon, Lalkovic and Chalobah showed some very good with some decidedly average. Sala shone brightest for 45 minutes on a day where nobody played badly, and the atmosphere around the academy was profoundly upbeat after a week in which it reached heights it has long since been waiting for.
Team: Walker, Sampayo, Chalobah, Gordon, Deen-Conteh, C.Clifford (c) (Rodgers 45), Saville, Philliskirk, Lalkovic, Sala (Kane 45), Phillip (Prosenik 41)
Goals: Phillip 41, Chalobah 45, Philliskirk 47, Kane 50