Chelsea’s Under-18s returned to Cobham for the first time since the opening day of the season after two wins and two defeats so far in the Academy season, and turned in an impressive performance against a good Watford team. Goals from Kaby, Marko Mitrovic and Gokhan Tore sealed a 3-1 win for Dermot Drummy’s side.
After a midweek friendly against Reading, Drummy made some further experimental changes. In an attempt to improve Billy Knott’s defensive game, he was started at left-back, with another converted midfielder Billy Clifford again at right-back. Josh McEachran played at the base of a diamond midfield, with Gokhan Tore on the left and captain Conor Clifford on the right, leaving Kaby to return from suspension behind a front two of Mitrovic and Bobby Devyne.
In sweltering conditions for late September, the Blues had a lively start and were ahead inside the first ten minutes in fine style. Play from the right came inside and from the edge of the area, Kaby unleashed a rocket of a left-footed shot which soard into the top corner of the net, leaving the goalkeeper helpless. It was a goal which signalled the control they had over the game, and they came forward with confidence and energy, led by Kaby, who was having a great opening to the game.
At the other end of the scale, Knott was struggling at left-back. He was making basic mistakes and getting frustrated with himself, which only led to further frustration. Watford’s number 7 was causing him some problems and it was a move which exposed Knott that gave the visitors their first real sign of goal, but it was snuffed out by the first of a number of good saves from the ever-impressive Sam Walker. Three minutes later, Chelsea should have had a second, when first Devyne fluffed a volley from a corner, but scuffed it to Mitrovic, who headed tamely into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Whilst it wasn’t quite end to end, there was action of note for both teams. The aforementioned Watford number 7 sent a glorious free kick from 30 yards over the wall and left Walker stranded, but watched as the ball agonisingly hit the crossbar and looped away for a goal kick. Such moments often swing a game, and within ten minutes Chelsea had doubled the lead, and should have had three.
Before the lead was doubled, Gokhan Tore had a glorious chance for himself from 12 yards out but flashed his shot wide and wasteful. He made up for his mistake three minutes later though, taking a short corner with Kaby and whipping a dangerous cross into the near post where Mitrovic met it with a fantastic glanced header into the roof of the net for a goal his work had deserved. It continued his prolific start to the season and serves as yet another reminder that if he can remain fit, the goals will continue to come in droves for the Swedish hitman.
The second half started in tame fashion, with little of the offensive verve of the first period. Injuries and stoppages came thick and fast throughout the game, including numerous clashes of heads and one serious leg injury to a Watford defender, who was carted off with his leg immobilised. There was little going on in each final third, but McEachran and Clifford were busy and industrious in the middle of the park. In an attempt to create a spark, Drummy introduced Aziz Deen-Conteh at the back, pushing Knott up into his preferred left attacking role.
Within five minutes a real chance came the way of the hosts, as some tricky footwork allowed Conor Clifford space on the edge of the area, but his fierce drive was well parried by the Watford keeper. It was opening up by now, with Watford needing two goals in fifteen minutes, and Knott really should have put the game to bed seconds later, with the goal at his mercy coming in from the left to meet Clifford’s pass, he drove it wide of the far post.
Phillip Prosenik, a goalscorer in midweek, came on for Mitrovic, who was tiring, but Watford started to show some urgency. A wild hack by Knott in an attacking position somehow sent the ball flying back towards his own goal, and the visitors sought to take advantage. Only a last ditch block by Kenny Strickland saved a goal in that situation, but two minutes later the yellow shirts outnumbered blue and a cross from the right was turned home by Piero Mingoia at the far post, despite the attentions of Billy Clifford.
Anton Rodgers came on to add some steel to the defensive side of the game but Chelsea were really all at sea for a troubled five minutes and had to rely on another top save from Walker to keep the lead, a save which the goalkeeper followed with a verbal volley at his defence for allowing the chance to materialise. As an extended period of stoppage time began though, Chelsea put the game to bed with the decisive third. Quick passing in midfield gave Conor Clifford space to slide a perfect ball in behind for Tore, who composed himself to slot past the goalkeeper and seal the win.
Positive performances from Walker, Strickland and Mills are pleasing for the defence, even if the clean sheet fell to the wayside. Captain Clifford was impressive, McEachran was useful and effective and Kaby had a majestic first half, with endless running in his legs. Mitrovic was lively and strong, and earned a goal for his work rate, and all round it was a good performance which keeps up a largely strong start to the season.
Team: Walker, B. Clifford, Strickland, Mills, Knott (Rodgers 87), McEachran, C. Clifford (c), Gokhan Tore, Kaby, Mitrovic (Prosenik 75), Devyne (Deen-Conteh 65)
Sub Not Used: Hayden
Goals: Kaby ‘9, Mitrovic ’37, Tore ’90