If Cardiff are one of the worst teams in the FA Premier Academy League this season (based on their league record) they certainly didn’t show it on Saturday morning at Cobham. It took two Jacob Mellis goals towards the end of the first half to earn Chelsea a point in the end, and despite having more of the ball for most of the game a lack of penetration and some very sloppy play meant a draw was a fair result.As usual in the build-up to an FA Youth Cup tie, Paul Clement rang the changes, resting many of the big names ahead of Wednesday’s tie. However, captain Nana Ofori-Twumasi and Jacob Mellis both started, as did Frank Nouble and Adam Phillip. Casting an eye towards next season, two Under 16 schoolboys also started, Aldi Haxia in goal and Tom Hayden at right-back.
Right from the off Cardiff were pressing the ball at every opportunity, something they were able to keep up for most of the game, displaying incredible fitness levels. It rattled Chelsea, and forced them into a mistake that gave the Bluebirds a lead inside five minutes. They won a corner down the left wing, and although the delivery was tame, Chelsea’s marking was completely non-existent and centre-back Kye Edwards was left free for a tap-in from six yards out.
The football from the home side continued to be sloppy. The back four regularly had problems in finding an available option in midfield and were instead forced to turn to a longer passing game. Jack Saville tried to make things happen by carrying the ball into midfield, but was too often left with no help and lost the ball doing so a few times. Mellis was having a useful game in the middle and the two combined for Chelsea’s first real chance after 20 minutes. Saville’s long ball intended for Borini’s run missed the Italian but Mellis broke onto it deeper as the second man. Unfortunately, as he opened his body for the shot across the goalkeeper, he did little more than pass it back to him.
In changeable weather conditions – sun, strong winds and rain in spells – Chelsea finally got their act together. After a spell of breaks down both flanks through Borini and Nouble which each time just failed to materialise into something, and Hayden smashing a nice effort inches wide, they got level a little under ten minutes before the break, with more than a touch of fortune. A ball from the right towards Borini in the middle looked like it was going to run safely through to Herring, but he kept chasing and got there first, knocking the ball wide and the goalkeeper down. Play was allowed to continue with Nouble looking at an open goal from some 30 yards out wide on the left, and although it looked like he shot, his left footed attempt fizzed square across the box for Mellis to tap into the unguarded goal.
Minutes later Chelsea had the lead. Saville again marauded his way into midfield and played a deft ball down the inside left channel. Mellis broke onto it, got ahead of his man and this time showed composure and the correct choice of finish, nudging it wide of the goalie with the outside of his right foot. But, in a week where the team has conceded three penalties by way of goalkeepers fouling attackers, Chelsea were to finish off the week with a fourth.
Straight off the kick-off Cardiff went down the left, and a breakdown in communication allowed Carlile a clear one on one with Haxia. The young goalkeeper rushed out and jumped in two-footed, bringing him down for a clear foul. He was lucky not to be sent off, and was duly sent the wrong way from the spot, leaving the teams level going into the dressing rooms at the break.
The second half was a far less entertaining affair as the quality of the football on display decreased rapidly. Neither team could really settle the ball in midfield and supply to the strikers was poor throughout. After an hour Clement made a triple change, resting up Ofori-Twumasi and Mellis for midweek with Tabor also going off, replaced by Nikki Ahmed, Ben Gordon and Jordan Hibbert.
The changes were positive, with Hibbert’s abrasive and confident attitude (sporting an interesting new haircut to boot) and Ahmed’s direct running style giving Chelsea a bit more of a foothold in the game. Cardiff did have the best chance of the entire half to score though, big sub Rafeeq Kaid breaking through the middle one on one with Haxia, but Saville got back to intervene enough to allow Haxia a fairly comfortable save
The visitors, perhaps tiring a little from their high tempo pressure, retreated into their own third in the closing stages, inviting Chelsea forward. Nouble was the target of most attacks, using his size and skill to try and make waves down the left. On two or three occasions he supplied dangerous crosses that nobody got onto, Borini nowhere to be seen for much of the game. Ahmed had a dangerous run and left-footed effort blocked at the last, then an attempted outside of the right foot curler that ended up scooping too high.
When looking back at this game on Monday, Chelsea will be disappointed that they couldn’t force a win against a team with just three wins from 26 games heading into the game. The team was strong enough to win but too many players had poor performances and the passing was especially poor throughout. Saville and Mellis had strong games, whilst Nouble and Phillip worked hard to try and find space. Nobody was downright awful but more can be expected from Ofori-Twumasi, Tabor and Borini. Hayden had a useful first full 90 minutes for the Under 18s, moving to centre-back for half an hour and growing in confidence throughout.
Team: Haxia, Hayden, Ofori-Twumasi © (Ahmed 60), Saville, Tabor (Gordon 60), Taiwo, Mellis (Hibbert 60), Philliskirk, Nouble, Phillip, Borini
Goals: Mellis 38, 41