Chelsea finished their home campaign for 2007/08 with one of their worst performances of the season and were lucky to end up with a draw against a very good Leicester City team. A late moment of class from Gael Kakuta, who had come off the bench, was enough to haul The Blues back into a game they’d struggled to get themselves involved in. Despite the FA Youth Cup tie in Manchester only being three days prior, a surprisingly strong team was named. Rhys Taylor was forced into a rare Under 18 League start with Aldi Haxia, the only other fit goalkeeper, needed for Under 16 duty, whilst Nana Ofori-Twumasi and Jeffrey Bruma paired up in central defence ahead of him. Adam Phillip and Frank Nouble started with Fabio Borini in attack, Nouble being a late selection from the bench after Daniel Philliskirk pulled out ill. Under 16 stand-out Josh MacEachran was named amongst the substitutes for the first time.
Philliskirk’s withdrawal meant a change in tactics for Paul Clement. Jordan Tabor moved from the left of the front three to a central midfield role, with Nouble moving out wide left and Borini wide right, Phillip taking the central role. Whether the changes unsettled the boys or not, their start was sloppy and full of mistakes. In extremely strong winds, Leicester chose to employ a long ball game, knocking the ball up to gigantic striker Ricky Sappleton. The former QPR schoolboy was causing all sorts of problems with his massive frame and strength, and gave The Foxes a player to work off.
A mistake apiece from each Chelsea centre-back should have seen Leicester lead early. Ofori-Twumasi first made a real hash of his footwork trying to make a pass and allowed Ashley Chambers in, but the England youth international wasted the chance with a poor cross-shot attempt. Bruma tried his best to out-do Ofori-Twumasi, under-hitting a pass across the defence again to Chambers, but Rhys Taylor did well.
After starting much the better of the sides, the visitors took a deserved lead with their first real shot on goal. Build-up play down the right wing saw a cross into the six-yard box at the near post. Sappleton beat Bruma to the ball and flicked in with great agility. Taylor and Bruma argued about who was responsible for dealing with the ball but credit should be given to the striker for a good finish.
At the back Leicester were proving hard to break down, both centre-backs tall and strong and confident with the ball. Borini was having one of his most impressive games of the season trying to get things going for Chelsea, and combined with Jordan Hibbert to send the midfielder on a run into the area that was well smothered by the keeper. Hibbert then tried an overhead kick which looped just over, but he was the only one really trying, desperately trying to encourage his team-mates.
Perhaps undeservedly, Chelsea drew level a few minutes before half-time. Borini was played in down the inside right channel and did well to hold the ball up. He turned and pulled the ball back intended for the run of Phillip, who arrived too late, but the ball kept running towards Nouble at the far post. Under pressure, the big schoolboy did very well to smash his shot into the roof of the net.
The start of the second half saw no changes in personnel but some in choice of footwear, with drops of intermittent rain appearing. The wind was relentless, and Leicester now had it behind them for the second half, suiting their game plan even more. Bruma was beginning to do much better against Sappleton but such was the Leicester man’s physical dominance it was impossible to stop him making an impact.
Chelsea had Taylor to thank for keeping them in the game in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. Chambers found himself completely clean through one on one with the Welsh Under 21 international, but Taylor chose the perfect moment to throw his hands at the feet of the quick striker and smothered the ball brilliantly. A similar one on one save followed as Chelsea really struggled to get going.
Leicester took the lead again after 65 minutes, an in-swinging cross from the right found Sappleton, who held off Ofori-Twumasi to trap the ball on his chest and finish very well again. It looked to have secured the win for Leicester because Chelsea had still to make Carl Pentney work in the visitor’s goal. With a quarter of an hour remaining, changes finally came from the Chelsea bench, MacEachran first being given his Under 18 debut, followed by Kakuta and Ben Gordon.
They began to have an impact on Chelsea’s play. MacEachran gave the team a natural midfielder where Tabor struggled, whilst Kakuta’s always lively and dynamic play worried the opposition. They began to work a bit harder, sensing that something was maybe just there if they could work out a chance. With ten minutes remaining, that chance came, and was taken. Kakuta came in from the left wing with the ball and slipped Adam Phillip in on a diagonal run. Phillip cheekily back-heeled the pass first time back towards Kakuta, who had kept going, and hit a first time effort from the edge of the area that arrowed towards goal, hitting the post and going in.
It wasn’t entirely deserved on the shape of the game but neither team had many clear cut chances outside of the ones that were taken, and the extra class and ability given to the team by Kakuta told again. With the very last kick of the game, Phillip had a glorious chance to steal a win, played in past the last man by Kakuta, but he placed his shot squarely at Pentney. It would have been unfair on the visitors if they’d have lost at the death, but it was a real sitter.
On the day, not enough Chelsea players turned in their best performances to deserve or earn a win. Bruma and Ofori-Twumasi were suffering cup hangovers, King was poor at left-back, and Taiwo was quiet when he’s usually so tenacious and lively. Tabor struggled in an unfamiliar role, whilst Phillip was starved of service all game, but worked hard to win aerial battles. Borini was very good on the right wing, one of his best performances of the season, whilst Hibbert, Taylor and Nouble did well. With one more game to come away to Portsmouth, Chelsea will be hoping to finish the season with a win and score against the only team this season to prevent them doing so yet.
Team: Taylor, Ahmed, Ofori-Twumasi © (Gordon 80), Bruma, King, Taiwo, Hibbert, Tabor (MacEachran 70), Nouble (Kakuta 73), Borini, Phillip
Goals: Nouble 41, Kakuta 80