For the second year in a row, Chelsea’s Reserve team fell to a narrow 1-0 loss at Hampton & Richmond FC’s Beveree Stadium, despite being the better team for much of the game. At the end of the day, the results don’t matter in pre-season, and 20 players saw time on the pitch, as the squad builds towards the start of their league season.Brendan Rodgers made a number of changes from the team that started against Aldershot last weekend. Nana Ofori-Twumasi and Jeffrey Bruma returned to the defence, with Liam Bridcutt moving back into his natural position in midfield, where Jacob Mellis was given a start alongside Daniel Philliskirk. Lee Sawyer made his return from injury on the left wing, whilst Michael Mancienne was named amongst the subs, for a potential first appearance in a Chelsea shirt in over two years.
The game started at a similar pace to last weekend’s game, but in much warmer and consistent weather. Chelsea were looking nervy at the back, with both Magnay and Bruma making uncertain touches early that they got away with. Going forward, Stoch was lively, and Mellis was providing a real drive through the heart of the team. It was Stoch who would have the first attempt on goal, winning a free kick which he rattled just over with some force.
All the chances were falling to blue shirts, although none could be said to have been particularly clear-cut. Sawyer showed classic technique with a volley which was blocked, and similarly picture-perfect shape in opening his body for a curling effort which was easily held by Matt Lovett. The Beavers’ stopper also made routine stops from Philliskirk and Nielsen inside the first half hour.
At the other end, Rhys Taylor was having a quiet day, but was alert enough to make a spectacular save from Lawrence Yaku’s venomous but offside 20-yard volley. Hampton were looking to play on the break, having far less possession, but were struggling to do that, Chelsea’s superior athleticism getting them out of jail whenever there was a moment’s opening. Stoch crashed another two attempts over from distance as they pressed, looking for a goal their play deserved, but it wasn’t to come as the two teams went in level at half time with the scoresheet empty.
Changes aplenty followed at half time from both sides, with Chelsea bringing Cummings, Mancienne, Woods, Tejera, Fernandes and Ferreira into the fray, moving Liam Bridcutt back into central defence. The re-shuffle seemed to affect their play, as just under ten minutes into the second half, Hampton took the lead in fine fashion.
Chelsea had been playing some sharp one-touch football on the halfway line but the Beavers showed good pressure to win the ball from Mellis. From the swift counter attack, the Blues were found short on their left hand side, leaving Yaku with time and space to deftly flick the ball over Taylor and into the back of the net.
For a while, the goal gave the hosts momentum, as they kept the ball a lot better and came forward with more confidence. Yet for their spell of dominance, Taylor didn’t have another save to make, and Chelsea got themselves going again, although were similarly toothless in attack. With the exception of Stoch and Tejera, and impressively Cummings, there was a lack of urgency in the attacking play, and a disappointing absence of creativity.
With twenty minutes remaining, another round of subs ensued, as Jacopo Sala and Tom Taiwo came on, along with Niclas Heimann, for his first taste of Reserve football. He had literally nothing to do though, as the action was all down the other end. Cummings had switched to left-back and kept impressing in his support of Stoch, but Hampton had retreated into their shell and proved very tough to break down.
The best chance Chelsea had came from a set piece with ten minutes left. Tejera whipped in a dangerous ball to the edge of the six yard box where Mancienne flicked a header to the far post. It missed by about a foot, Hampton’s sub goalkeeper rooted to the spot. Stoch sent a free kick wide of the far post from out wide, and Woods flashed a shot over from the edge of the box, but for the third pre-season running, the Blues came away from the Beveree Stadium defeated.
Today’s best performers in blue were Stoch and Bridcutt again, with Cummings, Tejera, Mellis and Sawyer all looking good. Yet again though, further disappointment was found in Nielsen, Ferreira, and occasionally Fernandes. Sala looked more comfortable against this level of opposition, whilst Mancienne completely cruised through his 45 minute run-out and will surely be heading off to Asia with the senior squad.
Pre-season for the Reserves continues next weekend away at Torquay United.
Team: Taylor (Heimann 75), Ofori-Twumasi (Cummings 45), Magnay (Mancienne 45), Bruma (Woods 45), van Aanholt (Taiwo 75), Bridcutt ©, Mellis (Fernandes 45), Philliskirk (Tejera 45), Stoch, Sawyer (Ferreira 45), Nielsen (Sala 75)