Chelsea’s youngest reserve team of the team, featuring something of a ramshackle defensive unit and three schoolboys in total on the night, went down to a ruthless and impressive Manchester United team in Monday night action.
Two first half goals from Joshua King were responded to by a header from Archange Nkumu, but second half tallies from Gabriel Obertan and Bebe put an emphatic seal on affairs.
With the entire FA Youth Cup team being rested ahead of Wednesday’s second leg, the first team in action the same night and a number of the club’s schoolboys also in competition this week, numbers were sparse for Steve Holland, and it manifested itself in an inexperienced back four.
Under-16 defender Alistair Gordon played at right back, with Amin Affane on the opposite side making his reserve team debut in an unfamiliar position. Nkumu partnered captain Carl Magnay, making his first start in 13 months after a horrendous knee injury.
Ahead of them regular reserve names were present in the likes of Clifford, Kaby and Gokhan Tore, although the substitutes bench was one of the more interesting this season, featuring two more schoolboys as well as Goalkeeping Coach Mark Beeney and Fitness Coach Chris Jones.
United were slightly more experienced but also rested their Youth Cup charges. However, they still possessed a dangerous front three in the form of the three goalscorers.
The early stages were dictated by the home side, as Chelsea put themselves under unnecessary pressure with some sloppy passes. Jan Sebek was called upon to scramble the ball clear three times in the opening quarter of an hour as a nervous back line struggled to get to grips with a bobbly pitch at Altrincham.
They were, however, looking lively at the other end, although they restricted themselves to long shots, none of which came close to testing Ben Amos in the United goal.
Obertan, a French Under-21 international, had the game’s first real chance, but Oliver Norwood’s cross was slightly too high and consequently the header soared safely over Sebek’s crossbar.
Adam Phillip’s mazy run down the left then threatened to create an opening but as he got closer to goal, he ran out of room and with Mitrovic begging for the pass which would have resulted in a certain goal, United were able to clear their lines.
Shortly before the half hour mark the Reds took the lead in fine yet simple fashion. A poor corner from Gokhan Tore was cleared at the near post, and as Clifford lost the battle for possession of the loose ball, King broke away down the left.
With plenty of space, the rangy Norwegian strode forwards imperiously, exchanged passes with Marnick Vermijl and sent a fantastically composed finish beyond the despairing dive of Sebek.
Minutes later the same player doubled the lead, ruthlessly exploiting the space left in by Gordon, who had lost possession up the pitch. King bore down on goal and from a tight angle slotted away in fine fashion.
The home team had deserved a lead but perhaps not by two goals, and just before the break Chelsea were able to reduce the arrears. Gokhan’s flighted free kick in from the right found the head of Nkumu, who nodded in his first goal of the season at any level.
Magnay went close to a second goal in first half stoppage time, of which there was plenty due to a lengthy stoppage as Kaby received treatment, but the half time whistle went with United deservedly leading 2-1.
If they were in control in the first half, they really put the squeeze on their inexperienced opponents after the restart, enjoying a near ten minute spell of dominance where Chelsea could hardly get hold of the ball.
They failed to make it count immediately, although not for a lack of trying as Sebek was on hand to deny both Bebe and Obertan again.
On the hour mark, Holland introduced another Under-16 defender in Alex Davey, who replaced Magnay, and Fitness Coach Jones, who swapped with Kaby.
The Portuguese had made what appeared to be a miraculous recovery having been stretchered off earlier, but was clearly still struggling and made his way to the sidelines.
Davey, meanwhile, was about to learn about the step up in quality from youth team football to reserve level, as Norwood’s long ball over the top found Obertan, who raced away from the newcomer.
Sebek charged off his line but missed the ball completely, allowing the United number nine to slot home and make it 3-1.
At this juncture, the Blues’ back line featured two Under-16s alongside two first years, but they were rather unfortunate not to have a second goal to their name, as Phillip saw an effort strangely ruled out for offside.
Gokhan did well to create space in the box and find Mitrovic, who turned and saw his shot saved by Amos. The ball fell free and was deflected into the back of the net, perhaps off the legs of defender Vermijl, but the linesman’s flag went up for offside against the Chelsea forward, who appeared to be anything but.
Amos was forced into action again shortly after to deny Gokhan, who had been head and shoulders above his team mates on the night. His smart shot was beaten away from the top corner after he cut inside from the left wing.
Obertan lifted another chance onto the roof of the net as he once more preyed on young Davey, whilst the visiting team became even younger as Walter Figueira replaced Michael Woods to take the schoolboy tally to three.
He immediately had an effort at goal after linking well with Jones, before a glorious pass from Clifford found Phillip in the box, but having trapped the ball well, he was let down by his second touch and the chance disappeared.
United’s own schoolboy sub Jack Rudge missed a gilt-edged chance to score within minutes of his arrival, but the more experienced Bebe showed him how seconds later, finishing well after yet another spectacular pass from the impressive Norwood.
Both teams were then content to see the clock out, with wayward attempts from Phillip and Bebe forgettable interruptions. It was a tough night for the Blues and, if we’re honest, a result many will have expected, but in such circumstances you want to look for positives.
Gokhan Tore was in fabulous form all evening and deserved a goal, whilst nobody disgraced themselves. Makeshift fullbacks Gordon and Affane did well, and Nkumu was impressive in the middle. Indeed, it was a game where the inexperienced perhaps outshone those you may have expected more from due to their previous exploits.
United’s Norwood was by far and away the man of the match, with impressive outings too from King and Vermijl, but Chelsea will have gone into this match without focusing on the result, and their reserve league fate still remains very much in their hands.
Team: Sebek, Gordon, Magnay (c) (Davey 60), Nkumu, Affane, Woods (Figueira 75), C.Clifford, Kaby (Jones 60), Gokhan Tore, Phillip, Mitrovic
Subs Not Used: Mark Beeney, Mesca
Goals: Nkumu ’38