For the third Under 18 home pre-season game in a row, Chelsea couldn’t find a win and were left with a draw. Much like the QPR game at the end of July, today’s affair was an end-to-end affair with plenty of entertainment and goals, as the two teams christened the new academy match pitch with a thrilling 4-4 draw.Paul Clement made a number of changes to his side again, with the likes of Rohan Ince and Milan Lalkovic returning to Under 16 duty (they were playing Wolves’ Under 16s at the same time), and a shuffled pack followed. Tom Hayden started at right-back, whilst Daniel Philliskirk retained the captaincy. Jacopo Sala swapped roles with Fabio Borini, with Sala playing off the striker and Borini wide, whilst two trialists played in the defensive midfield and striker positions – twins by the surname of Mori.
In front of a healthy crowd – now seated in covered stands in front of the new Academy building – the game got off to a lightning start with Wolves taking a stunning lead inside four minutes. A loose ball in midfield rolled towards Kyle Bennett, and he took a shot at goal. Nick Heimann was barely off his line, but the ball looped perfectly over his head and into the back of the net.
Wolves had lightning pace along the flanks and were really in control of the game for the early spells. Bennett kept breaking down the left causing problems for Hayden, whilst David Davis was controlling the game in the middle of the park. It took a quite stunning fingertip save from Heimann to stop Bennett adding a spectacular second, as Chelsea tried to find their feet.
In attack, the trialist Mori was looking lively and sharp, but slightly detached and it was affecting the fluidity of the home attack. Delivery from wide positions was impressive, but chances were few and far between. Mori’s twin brother in midfield had a good effort from the edge of the box closed down well, whilst Ben Gordon, on for the injured Jack Saville, drove forward well but was closed down at the end of his run.
It took a piece of brilliance and persistence from Fabio Borini to bring the Blues level. The young Italian came inside from the right having beaten the offside trap, and showed great strength to get his chance away. The shot was blocked and saved, but as it looped up in the air he acrobatically launched into an overhead kick and found the back of the net. It ensured Clement’s boys would go in at half time on level terms.
Saville came back into the action for the second half, replacing Billy-Joe King, who had suffered a facial injury. Within a minute of the restart Chelsea had the lead after a horrendous error from goalkeeper Richard Woolley. He completely muffed on a backpass and allowed the striker Mori to turn his debut into a goalscoring one, tapping the ball into an empty net.
The lead barely lasted five minutes though, as Bennett continued to show outstanding dribbling ability. Minutes after he danced through the Blues defence and put a chance wide, he did the same down the inside left channel before opening his body up and passing the ball into the corner with consumate ease. He wasn’t done yet though, beating Nikki Ahmed this time (on for Hayden after the second goal) and providing a cross for Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to tap in at the far post, catching Chelsea on a pacy break.
The Blues looked all at sea at the back and a number of changes followed. Jordan Hibbert and Conor Clifford entered the fray to strengthen the midfield, forcing Philliskirk into a very unfamiliar centre-back role. The changes, as usual, led to more sloppy play from the Blues, and it led to a fourth Wolves goal, as Bennett completed his hat-trick from a corner.
Marko Mitrovic and Josh MacEachran came on as Chelsea went to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and began to get their game going in the hunt for a way back. A shot from Hibbert into a crowd was deemed – perhaps harshly – to have hit a Wolves hand for a penalty, which the substitute took and scored himself, placing his effort perfectly in the bottom corner.
The goal gave Chelsea hope that they could rescue the game, and they flowed forward, earning corner after corner and trying all they could to get level. It took a moment of magic to do it – step forward Jacopo Sala. On the edge of the box trying to find his way down the wing onto his favoured right foot, he was defended well enough to show him inside. Comfortable enough to take a shot with his left, it curled and dipped over Woolley’s hand and into the top corner. He sprinted off in celebration to embrace compatriot Borini on the bench – Chelsea’s Italian Job doing the business today.
The tying goal came with twenty minutes still to play, and Chelsea could easily have had a winner. Tabor lashed a 35 yard rocket into the back of the net from a free kick but it was called back for being taken too quickly. Mitrovic was fouled in the area twice – once tripped, once pushed in the back – and on another day where a penalty hadn’t been given beforehand, he might have had one. The Swedish striker went close with a shot too, flashing his effort inches over the bar, whilst Clifford sent a daisy-cutter less than foot wide of the post.
In the end, Wolves were probably happy to escape with a draw, but they definitely deserved to return north with something. In front of a number of watching Chelsea staff – Scolari, Murtosa, Pracidelli, Clarke, Rodgers and others – Clement’s boys showed great steel and spirit in fighting back from 4-2 behind, and nobody had a really below-par appearance. Sala and Borini were superb for the most part, whilst the team looked much better with a proper striker in Mitrovic. Special mention to Daniel Philliskirk too, putting in a fine shift at centre-back alongside Jack Saville, and looking an impressive captain.
Attention now turns to the league opener against Crewe on Thursday morning at Cobham.
Team: Heimann, Hayden (Ahmed 55), Camilleri (Clifford 57), Saville (Gordon 25), King (Saville 45), Mori (Hibbert 57), Philliskirk ©, Borini (MacEachran 60), Tabor, Sala, Mori (Mitrovic 65)
Goals: Borini 35, Mori 46, Hibbert 67, Sala 71