Chelsea’s start to the 2009/10 Academy season has been rather impressive, and it’s been largely based off a fine home record. On Saturday morning in cold, almost wintery conditions, Dermot Drummy’s boys recorded a fourth win from four games at Cobham this season, beating Charlton Athletic 3-0, with a brace from Marko Mitrovic bookending Billy Knott’s third goal in three games.
With a hectic week of internationals (and some still to come), the line-up showed some changes as per usual. One was enforced in goal, with Niclas Heimann replacing the injured Sam Walker. Walker has had an excellent start to this season but was walking around on crutches with his left foot in a brace, which unfortunately suggests a lengthy absence for the giant stopper. Heimann was chosen ahead of regular backup Aldi Haxhia as he needed action, this being his first start of the season in any form, friendly or competitive. Ahead of him, this season’s regular back four of Sampayo, Mills, Strickland and Knott continued, whilst Kaby returned to the midfield to take the captain’s armband back from Billy Clifford, who joined him in the middle with George Saville anchoring. Gokhan Tore and Milan Lalkovic flanked Marko Mitrovic in attack.
Charlton had a tough week coming into this game, suffering 5-1 defeats to first Fulham, and then the Gambian Under-17 team, but with experience in defence in the form of Yado Mambo and highly-rated captain Carl Jenkinson they started confidently, looking like they were up for a fight. Much of the early going was scrappy in midfield, with neither side able to make a breakthrough into the final third. The Addicks had the best of the goalmouth action with a series of early corners which they looked to exploit with their powerful centre-back pairing of Mambo and Ajayi, but the Blues dealt well with their endeavours.
It took a moment of magic from one of the most talented players on the pitch to create the first goal and it arrived after a quarter of an hour. Gokhan took on Jenkinson out on the left and in an instant shot past him with a burst of acceleration, then had the poise and balance to put the ball into a dangerous area where Mitrovic was able to beat the defender to bundle it past Connor Gough for 1-0. With the lead, the hosts began to look more confident, popping the ball around at the back with ease and generally not forcing the issue, with Charlton not able to create anything for themselves.
The game itself entered something of a mid-half lull, only livened up by a strange incident between Knott and Liam Bellamy. A collision had left Knott nursing his head on the sideline, with a free kick given. Chelsea’s left-back then appeared to fall over of his own accord before confronting the Charlton winger. The referee duly dealt with the situation, leaving the onlooking spectators somewhat bemused. Still, the visitors picked up the pace and forced Heimann into his first save courtesy of a drive from Freddie Warren which was straight at the German stopper. Minutes later they might have been level, after a colossal mistake by Danny Mills left Lewis Perkins with a chance, but he dragged his shot wide of the right hand post.
The 1-0 scoreline was taken into half time, which was brief for Charlton, as manager Damian Matthew sent his boys back out onto the pitch after a mere five minutes inside. The ex-Chelsea midfielder (and youth team coach) was apparently not impressed with what he had seen and hoped for better in the second half. If he wasn’t happy then, he was unlikely to be smiling minutes after the restart, as his side found themselves facing a two goal deficit. Play outside the area found the attacking Knott, who smashed a stunning effort into the top corner from twenty yards. Despite playing at left-back in recent weeks the England Under-17 international hasn’t lost his goalscoring touch, and was once again delighted, celebrating in exhuberant fashion.
Any hopes Charlton had of forcing their way back into the game had been dashed, and they let their heads drop somewhat. Chelsea rested the tired and ineffective Lalkovic (having been on a week of international duty) after an hour, replacing him with Bobby Devyne, before a Gokhan shot provided Clifford with a rebound chance which was unfortunately wasted, being sent high over Gough in a poor attempt at a lob. There was no real threat from the visitors, and with a little under fifteen minutes remaining, the icing was put on the Chelsea cake.
A break down the right wing found Kaby in the opposition penalty area, and he cut the ball inside to Mitrovic, who was tripped by Ajayi for an easy penalty. The referee showed leniency towards Ajayi in not carding him, when in reality it was a professional foul, but after a discussion between Mitrovic and Knott as to who was to take the spot kick (with Knott having converted one last week), the Swede placed the ball and sent Gough the wrong way to score his second of the match and fifth of the season. There was to be no hat-trick however, as he immediately made way for Philipp Prosenik.
A fourth goal from Gokhan was correctly chalked off for offside late in the game, and Aziz Deen-Conteh made a late appearance for Kaby as Chelsea cruised their way towards full time. There was another minor hiccup from Mills with another poor pass which he bailed himself out of, and Billy Clifford saw a rasping drive sail over at the death, but the final whistle signalled another strong, impressive home performance from the Blues, who find themselves well placed a third of the way through the season. Individually, both goalscorers and Gokhan played well, whilst Strickland, Saville and Clifford looked good throughout. A very pleasing morning.
Team: Heimann, Sampayo, Strickland, Mills, Knott, Saville, Kaby (c) (Deen-Conteh 88), B. Clifford, Lalkovic (Devyne 60), Gokhan, Mitrovic (Prosenik 77)
Goals: Mitrovic ’15, ’77 pen, Knott ’46