Probably the strongest team Chelsea have ever put out at Reserve level suffered a 2-1 defeat to Reading’s strong reserve line-up on a bitterly cold Monday night at Brentford’s Griffin Park. An irony of the result is that both Reading goals were scored by players who played in Chelsea’s academy – centre-back Michael Duberry and England Under-21 striker Leroy Lita.
With a lack of first team opportunities of late for fringe players in the senior squad, the Chelsea side featured Hilário, Tal Ben-Haim, Steve Sidwell, Claudio Pizarro, and captaining the side Andriy Shevchenko. Their inclusion facilitated the rest of the more talented younger players ahead of their FA Youth Cup Semi Final on Friday, although Patrick van Aanholt did play an hour. Reading’s team saw Duberry joined in defence by Ibrahima Sonko and Ulises de la Cruz, whilst Jimmy Kebe and Bobby Convey flanked Lita.
The Royals could’ve taken the lead inside 30 seconds. An early break down the right gave Lita a chance which Hilário smothered well. The rebound fell to Kebe, and his shot was saved again even more impressively by the Portuguese stopper. Unfortunately, it could hardly be seen as a precursor for an eventful half, with the majority of the half a scrappy affair with both teams struggling to settle the ball in midfield. Kebe went close with a near post header from a Convey corner, whilst di Santo looped a strong header onto the roof of Adam Federici’s net.
Convey had the most spectacular attempt of the half, a full volley from the edge of the box which missed the net by about a foot. To close out the half centre-back Sonko made a timely intervention to stop the lively and hard-working Shevchenko from scoring and ensure the two teams went into the dressing room level.
Reading took the lead five minutes into the second half. Convey’s corner found its way to the back post amidst some poor Chelsea marking and Duberry nodded in unchallenged. The former Chelsea man didn’t celebrate his goal, displaying an affection for the club that has lasted since his days in blue. It was nearly 2-0 two minutes later as a lovely Reading move saw Karacan play Convey in, but the American saw his attempt hit the crossbar and fall to safety.
With a little more than 20 minutes remaining Reading doubled their advantage deservedly. The lively and very impressive Kebe picked up the ball just inside his own half and took off. His pace took him into the final third before he played a sublime through ball to cut Chelsea open. Lita’s run left him one-on-one with Hilário, and an impressive patience and dummy gave the Congo-born hitman a tap-in.
The game appeared to be dead and buried with the second goal, but five minutes later Chelsea were right back in it. Pizarro played a through ball aiming for di Santo but Sonko appeared to have it covered. However, a lapse in concentration was all the Argentinian needed and he displayed great composure in sending a left footed effort crashing past Federici for his second goal in as many competitive reserve outings.
The goal gave Chelsea a renewed vigour as they set about trying to achieve a second two-goal turnaround in succession. Substitute Miroslav Stoch was lively and hit a fierce shot right at Pizarro’s face, but Shevchenko’s high header in stoppage time summed up the host’s attempts and they fell to another disappointing defeat.
The match served as a useful outing for the fringe players in need of playing time – Tal Ben Haim was extremely impressive, whilst the deeper-lying Pizarro displayed some good link-up play. Sidwell struggled to take control of the game whilst Shevchenko, for all his endeavour, found that nothing would come off for him. Franco di Santo was once again impressive, he worked hard, chased down everything, won numerous headers and was rewarded with a goal. On a night where so many bigger names played, his was the one that shined in blue.
Team: Hilario, Cummings, Ben Haim, Magnay, van Aanholt (Gordon 60), Smith, Sidwell, Younghusband (Stoch 66), Pizarro, di Santo, Shevchenko ©
Goals: di Santo 72
Pictures from the game, taken by Dan Davies, can be seen at www.ddpix.co.uk