Less than 48 hours after sealing their place in the FA Youth Cup Semi Finals, Chelsea’s academy team were back in league action under the floodlights of their Cobham pitch. An unusual Friday night fixture brought a tough fixture with Norwich, and a late win sealed by an own goal.
As you might expect, Dermot Drummy made a few changes in order to have fresher legs. Only Daniel Mills Pappoe, Aziz Deen-Conteh and Marko Mitrovic kept their starting berths, with George Saville, Rohan Ince, Bobby Devyne and Ben Sampayo all coming in from Wednesday night’s bench. Reserve squad members Niclas Heimann, Kenny Strickland and Nikki Ahamed all started too, with Strickland captaining the side.
The changes meant that the side reverted to a diamond midfield shape due to the lack of available wingers, but width was still provided by the ever-improving Deen-Conteh from left back, and his early forays into attack put the hosts on top in the early stages. Much like Wednesday night, Mitrovic had the first chance with a header from a corner, but he couldn’t turn Anton Rodgers’ delivery into a goal. The duo both had further attempts in the opening quarter of an hour with Rodgers going closest to opening the scoring, but his powerful effort zipped over the crossbar.
As Norwich struggled to deal with the freezing conditions, Chelsea seized full control of the game and bossed the first half of the first half, with it seemingly only a matter of time before the opening goal came. They had to remain patient however, waiting until the half hour mark before going ahead. Strickland carved the Canaries’ defence apart and Devyne found himself clear on goal. His pace meant nobody was catching him and he finished with great composure to give the hosts a deserved lead.
The lead prevailed until the break, with notable action at a minimum due to the ice-cold weather. Neither side are particularly familiar with late kick-off times, with the Youth Cup being the only competition to fully utliise them, and perhaps their unfamiliarity lended itself to a scrappier, more nervous affair. Drummy chose to rest Mills Pappoe for the second half, after playing him for the duration of the previous two matches in the last seven days, and gave more playing time to schoolboy centre back Nathaniel Chalobah.
The visitors, however, came out for the second half with energy and a determination to get back on terms. Having already won the return fixture earlier in the season they certainly had the confidence to know that they could turn things around, and had a goal disallowed as Heimann’s goal was threatened on a more consistent basis. Chelsea legs were tiring and Mitrovic was given a rest with twenty minutes remaining, as Milan Lalkovic came on to use his pace on the break in an attempt to seal the game with a second goal.
Instead, it was Norwich who got a deserved equaliser with just eight minutes left on the clock, and it came from schoolboy Sam Kelly. A long, angled ball into the box caused worry for Chelsea’s short defence and Kelly outdid namesake and top goalscorer Danny Kelly to head home confidently at the far post. It was a hammer blow to a tiring home team, but they found enough to make the closing stages a dramatic affair, and clinch a winner at the death.
It was apt that the supply came from Deen-Conteh, who was man of the match on the night, as his cross into a dangerous area threatened to give Devyne an opportunity for a second. As the ball came across the Norwich defender tried to deal with it but was left between a rock and a hard place and could only turn the ball past his goalkeeper to give Chelsea a 2-1 victory. It would be hard to argue that it was deserved, with both teams having a better half each, but it was impressive resilience from the hosts, and the win will have warmed everybody on their way home.
Team: Heimann, Sampayo, Mills Pappoe (Chalobah 45), Strickland (c), Deen-Conteh, Ince, Saville, Ahamed, Rodgers, Mitrovic (Lalkovic 70), Devyne
Goals: Devyne ’30, Own Goal ’90