Chelsea have had a good record at Reserve level against Portsmouth in recent years, compiling wins of 6-0, 5-0 and 4-1. On Tuesday night at Havant and Waterlooville, they added a 5-2 win to that record, with an Adam Phillip hat-trick the highlight of an eventful match with no shortage of goalmouth action.
The day started chaotically for Chelsea, with captain Sam Hutchinson pulling out with illness during the afternoon, meaning new arrival Kenny Strickland was forced to make his reserve debut in the absence of any other senior centre-back (due to loans and internationals). Tom Hayden was called down to take a place on the subs bench, but things became even odder when the referee realised that his black shirt clashed with Chelsea’s new navy away kit. Instead of finding an alternative shirt, the official decided it more prudent for Chelsea to don orange training bibs over their new attire. So the match got underway with Chelsea looking slightly strange in both selection and appearance.
In other team selection news, Rhys Taylor started his first full game since February, Nikki Ahmed got his first reserve start, as did Conor Clifford in midfield. The team lined up with a different formation to last week, almost a 4-3-2-1, with Jacopo Sala dropping deeper alongside Clifford and captain Michael Woods, leaving Gael Kakuta and Adam Phillip to support Fabio Borini in attack. It took just three minutes for the visitors to get on the scoresheet, after some poor goalkeeping from Jamie Ashdown. He failed to deal convincingly with a cross from the right and as the ball bobbled and bounced around the edge of the six yard box, Adam Phillip showed agility in volleying the ball home under pressure for his second goal in four days.
It could, and should have been more almost instantly. Kakuta’s persistence on the edge of the box opened a chance, but it was on his less favoured right foot, and the ball screwed wide of the post. That was followed by Phillip heading wide of the post from eight yards completely unmarked after the hosts got their offside trap completely wrong. A breathless first ten minutes had seen it all from the orange-clad Chelsea, but just a goal to show for their high-tempo opening.
Portsmouth settled a bit more as the first half moved on to the half way stage, but had nothing to show for it, and all of the chances were coming Chelsea’s way. Kakuta narrowly missed a good cross from Ben Gordon, once again unmarked, but they didn’t have to wait too long to add to the lead, and when it came it was in some style. Phillip dribbled infield from the left but was fronted up by the defender, who dispossessed him. The ball fell to Borini, who took the ball out of his feet and crashed a low shot into Ashdown’s bottom right-hand corner from the edge of the area. It was a quite unstoppable effort and a deserved two goal lead.
Disappointly, some sloppy defending allowed the hosts back into the game sharpish, and in the same incident Chelsea’s makeshift defence became even more threadbare. Paris Cowan-Hall dribbled through into the area and Chelsea backed off, but somehow found themselves outnumbered. The ball fell to Danijel Subotic, and he rifled past a helpless Rhys Taylor to halve the deficit. In the build-up, Ofori-Twumasi had taken a knock, and despite attempting to run it off, he couldn’t continue. Billy Clifford entered the fray to make his Reserve debut, slotting in at right-back. Ahmed went to left-back and Gordon joined Strickland in the middle.
Still the chances flowed though, and both Borini and Phillip had chances to add to their individual tallies, getting in behind the last man but showing a lack of composure in their final decision. Borini sliced high over the stand and Phillip shot when a pass across the goal was an easier option. In between, Cowan-Hall went close from the edge of the area but didn’t catch the shot as cleanly as he would have liked. Kakuta’s well-struck effort to force a save from Ashdown closed out an all-action first half, with the promise of much more to come.
Indeed it did, as whilst the second half was slow to reach the same tempo of the first, Portsmouth were somehow able to get level through Gael N’Lundulu. A ball in from the right was poorly defended, and fell kindly to the Frenchman, who showed off his technical prowess in bending it into the bottom corner from just inside the area. They hadn’t deserved it, but they were level. Fortunately for Chelsea, they were to be put in a position of advantage from which they were never to look back shortly afterwards.
Centre-back Luke Wilkinson had received a fifth minute booking for disapproving with the referee’s decision, and his performance from that point had been rather poor. Midway through the second half he put in a crude challenge on Kakuta, and received his marching orders. It forced Portsmouth’s hand to go back into a shell, and in allowing Chelsea to attack them handed them the game. Almost instantly they nearly re-took the lead, as first Borini rattled the crossbar, and then a spectacular overhead attempt on the rebound from Phillip was wonderfully saved by the inconsistent Ashdown. Not to be denied for long, the following corner resulted in the third goal for the Blues.
Sala’s corners had been of the finest quality all night, and combined with the hosts’ deficiencies at defending them, it was a recipe for Chelsea goals. Borini made a darting run to the near post, meeting his compatriot’s header like a missile and finding the back of the net. Further corners followed, as Chelsea reached double figures in that department, and Kakuta was next to go close, being denied by a goal line clearance. Borini, by now searching for a hat-trick, teed the ball up some 25 yards out, and his dipping volley saw him denied by the crossbar for the second time in the match.
Kakuta forced another good save but it was only a matter of time before the fourth arrived, and when it did it was once again unstoppable, even if it was aided by poor defending. Kakuta drove towards the heart of the defence but was broken up. The ball did however fall kindly to Phillip, who rattled it first time from outside the area and it skidded off the wet turf into the back of the net to give both Chelsea strikers a brace on the night, and ten minutes to find a hat-trick.
It was Phillip who found it deep into stoppage time, after he had been denied himself by a last ditch challenge and Woods had prodded a chance towards goal in the closing stages. Deep into the final seconds, Conor Clifford broke free, looking to add his name to the scoresheet, but Ashdown smothered him. The ball fell loose, and Phillip swooped to tap into the open goal and complete a superb night for him and for the team. It was as one-sided a performance as you might expect to see from a young and inexperienced team, and they looked breathtaking going forward at times. Lots of that was due to inept defending, but the opportunies were taken, and Steve Holland can look back on this one more favourably than his debut – an impressive bounce-back to form.
Team: Taylor, Ahmed, Strickland, Ofori-Twumasi (B. Clifford 35), Gordon, C. Clifford, Woods (c), Sala, Kakuta, Phillip, Borini
Subs Not Used: Sebek, Hayden, Philliskirk, Lalkovic
Goals: Borini 2, 68, Phillip 25, 79, 90