Chelsea’s Reserve team returned to action on Wednesday night in front of a rare public viewing, and rewarded those hardy souls making the trek to a cold Bishop’s Stortford FC with a 2-1 victory over West Ham United.
Steve Holland was able to call upon three of last night’s first team substitutes, handing Jacob Mellis, Billy Clifford and Jacopo Sala starts, whilst Fabio Borini was able to return to the team.
Milan Lalkovic made his first appearance at reserve level since injuring himself against Liverpool earlier in the season, whilst there was a youthful look to the centre-back partnership of Nathaniel Chalobah and Archange Nkumu.
They would be up against the pair of Frank Nouble and Zavon Hines, the latter returning to action after a year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
In front of a number of watching scouts with the Football League loan deadline coming tomorrow, Hines would find early reward for his rehabilitation with the opening goal after eleven minutes.
Wearing the captain’s armband, he confidently dispatched a penalty kick beyond the reach of Jan Sebek. Referee Ian Cooper had penalised Clifford for a handball, ensuring Chelsea got off to a poor start.
The Blues responded well though, and looked to restore parity immediately. Ramping up the pressure, the lively Lalkovic was involved heavily, picking up a booking for his exuberance, but it took just ten minutes for the goal to come.
When it did, it came courtesy of some questionable goalkeeping by the wonderfully named Ruud Boffin in the home goal. The Belgian was unable to hold Mellis’ powerful effort and watched it spin beyond his grasp and into the back of the net.
The endeavour being shown by Borini was testament to his superb character and spirit. Allegedly being held out of the first team due to a contract dispute, he responded in the best manner possible by playing his heart out in search of more goals to add to his seven so far this season.
Things entered something of a lull as the half hour mark passed but they were woken up again with a bang ten minutes from half time as Chelsea took the lead.
A sweeping counter attack presented an opportunity to Gokhan Tore, who needed no second invitation to rifle an unstoppable finish beyond the helpless Boffin.
Both sides had the chance to add to the scoresheet before the break, but Kaby shot over after beating two men, whilst Jordan Spence missed by mere inches after a marauding run forward from the full-back.
The hosts restarted the match with a renewed vigour and looked to have evened things up three minutes into the second half as Spence met Ahmed Abdullah’s corner with authority. He was, however, denied by a goalline clearance from Aziz Deen-Conteh.
The pace of the game quickly restored, action was seen at both ends with Blair Turgott’s appeals for a penalty turned down, before Mellis spurned an opportunity at the other end.
Mellis had made his first team debut less than twenty-four hours prior, but his evening was about to come to an abrupt end on the hour mark.
Away from play, the England Under-19 international was seen to have kicked Abdullah, and was duly dismissed for violent conduct.
To their credit, Holland’s boys continued to force the issue and refused to rest on their laurels, with Borini and Lalkovic both attempting free kicks without success.
A counter attack with numbers in support offered a fantastic chance to put the game to bed but Chalobah’s touch befell him at the crucial moment and the move broke down.
Alex Dyer’s Hammers began to increase the intensity and urgency with which they were playing and introduced prolific Australian forward Dylan Tombides with twenty minutes remaining.
He almost made an immediate impact, keeping Sebek on his toes with a rasping effort from distance.
With midfielder Oliver Lee pulling the strings, openings fell to Nouble, Cristian Montano and Turgott, but the door was closed just as quickly by an infectious Blues rearguard.
Youth team top goalscorer Todd Kane was rewarded for his fine start to scholarship life with a another reserve team appearance ten minutes from time, as he replaced goalscorer Tore.
With time against them, West Ham’s pressure began to fade and late in the game both Lalkovic and Borini had yet more sights of goal in a bid to find a decisive third.
They found Boffin in good form, however, although Lalkovic will have been disappointed not to make one of his chances count.
Nonetheless, Chelsea held on for another impressive away win in reserve team football, and a particularly hard-earned one after seeing out the latter stages with a man fewer.
The young centre-back pairing will take heart from a solid performance whilst many others picked up valuable playing time after time on the sidelines for one reason or another. A positive evening.
Team: Sebek, Clifford, Chalobah, Nkumu, Deen-Conteh (Sampayo 90), Kaby, Mellis, Sala (Saville 90), Lalkovic, Gokhan Tore (Kane 80), Borini
Goals: Mellis ’25, Gokhan ’36
Sent Off: Mellis ’60
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