Chelsea’s third reserve outing of this pre-season went much the same as their previous two.
Despite playing a lower level of opposition in Blue Square South side Woking, Steve Holland’s young boys were unable to find a win and instead went down to their third defeat in a row.
Joe McNerney’s header on the stroke of half time was the game’s only goal in what was probably the most disappointing of the three performances to date.
With some away with the first team in Germany, some injured, and some still unavailable after an extended summer, Holland’s squad was restricted to just fifteen names, with depth particularly weak in goal.
Rhys Taylor (loan) and Sam Walker (first team) were both unavailable, whilst Jan Sebek’s recovery from shoulder surgery isn’t quite at match fitness yet, which meant 16 year-old Jamal Blackman stepped up for his first outing at this level.
In front of him, there was a modicum of experimentation. Kaby played at left-back, an entirely new formation for him at the club, whilst Rohan Ince and Aziz Deen-Conteh continued their partnership in the middle.
Jack Cork captained the side in a midfield three with Conor Clifford and Jacob Mellis, returning from England duty, whilst Franco Di Santo led an attack flanked by Gokhan Tore and Milan Lalkovic.
For the hosts, Football Icon 1 winner Sam Hurrell started wearing the number 11 shirt, having signed a one-year deal with the club, and would go on to have an influential game.
Lenny Pidgeley made his first appearance in goal for the club, whilst former Blues schoolboy Daryn Hennessey was also in their squad, starting on the bench.
Chelsea started well, and Cork had an effort on target saved inside the first minute. He didn’t quite get hold of the ball and it rolled tamely through to Pidgeley in the home goal.
Woking, like Crawley and Wycombe before them, had started with a high tempo, forcing the young and inexperienced Chelsea defence back, but with Kaby in the unit, there was an out ball, and the Portuguese starlet was keen to carry the ball forwards, aiding transition.
Conor Clifford saw a long range free kick easily saved by Pidgeley as they continued to look fairly useful going forward, but there was no real cutting edge.
Lalkovic was regularly finding acres of space down the left wing, and his team-mates did a decent job of finding him, but each time he set his sights, the move came to nothing.
Gokhan Tore was struggling on the opposite flank, and with Di Santo offering little in the middle, both wide men, coming inside onto their stronger feet by design, were finding their path to goal blocked by a cluster of red and white shirts.
Mellis was attempting to break through the middle to help create options but he was all too easily tracked, and Woking defended some rather predictable attacks.
At the other end, The Cards saw their first real sight of goal find the target, but despite Craig Faulconbridge beating Blackman, his goal was chalked off for offside.
It signalled the beginning of a good spell of pressure for the hosts, and Hurrell began to chance his arm from distance. Once or twice he send efforts skidding wide, and it took a while for Blackman to really be tested.
When he was, he was equal to Mark Ricketts’ dipping volley and was able to tip it over the bar to safety. Ricketts had found the space with Kaby well out of position, a sign of his positional naivety, perhaps.
Back in front of the rather grand Bellway Homes Stand, Pidgeley made two fantastic stops to keep Graham Baker’s boys level. Gokhan was finally afforded some space and unleashed a fierce drive which was well parried, and when Lalkovic fired in the rebound, the young stopper was again equal to it.
It proved important, as with the first half coming to a close, Woking found a goal. Once again, a defensive set piece proved Chelsea’s undoing, with defender McNerney unmarked, allowing him to crash a header past Blackman and give his side the lead going in at the break.
With only Ben Sampayo, Anton Rodgers and George Saville on the bench, no changes were forthcoming ahead of the restart, but an injection of energy was needed. A tactical reshuffle was deployed, with Cork moving to centre-back, Deen-Conteh to left-back, and Kaby into midfield.
Chelsea had looked close to scoring in the first half without ever really looking like the dominant team, but Lalkovic’s high free kick aside, the second half was a rather tepid affair for the first fifteen minutes or so.
Hurrell, at least, was showing his former employers that he could perhaps have done a job, as he was increasingly influential both on the left and in the middle of the park.
Displaying the sort of energy which shone at Chelsea, his increased awareness and robustness were paying off, and he made a strong case for the man of the match award.
The Blues, meanwhile, were guilty of playing too slowly and ignoring the easier option. Too often a pass would be played into feet only for the recepient to head back towards his own goal and take too many touches, instead of potentially releasing a runner in behind or wide of him.
Lalkovic grew particularly frustrated of this, but at least he was still in the game. Gokhan barely looked interested and was given the hook with an hour on the clock.
Sampayo came on and went to right-back, with Billy Clifford moving into an advanced position. Lalkovic joined Di Santo up front as the formation changed to a flat 4-4-2.
It was an effective change, as it allowed Clifford to really get involved. He was showing the sort of desire lacking in some of his colleagues and was by far and away Chelsea’s best player on the evening.
Almost immediately after the change, he got into the Woking area and drew a neat save at the near post from the impressive Pidgeley.
From the corner which followed, Di Santo was allowed a free header, but his glanced effort spun away wide of the far post.
Woking introduced some fresher legs, including young Hennessey, and the game began to stretch out, with tired players leaving space in which to run. It allowed the home team chances to put the game to bed, but they found Blackman in good form.
The first-year scholar made two fine saves diving away to his left in quick succession; firstly to palm away a high bouncing volley, and then to get down low with a strong hand to prevent Ademola’s effort from getting by.
Clifford kept giving absolutely everything he had in search of an equaliser and saw two more efforts saved, but he wasn’t receiving much by way of help.
Saville replaced Mellis for the final ten minutes, but the only effort they could muster was Di Santo’s wild swing from the edge of the area after yet again holding onto the ball for too long.
Frustration began to grow in the visiting ranks and after Cork and Hennessey had a little niggle, Di Santo reacted badly to a challenge by Ricky Annane and made a beeline for him before engaging in some handbags.
Referee Jarnail Singh instructed that Di Santo be substituted, but there was barely time for Rodgers to replace him before the final whistle was blown.
At times Chelsea looked good, but there were an equal number of times where things didn’t come together and they looked a poor side. Some of the more influential faces in the side looked like they were merely going through the motions, when a more committed approach would have served them better.
Special words of praise for the performances of Blackman and Billy Clifford should be reserved, whilst Mellis tried to carry the charge from midfield, and Kaby gave a good account of himself in the first half.
Team: Blackman, B.Clifford, Ince, Deen-Conteh, Kaby, Cork (c), C.Clifford, Mellis (Saville 80), Gokhan Tore (Sampayo 60), Lalkovic, Di Santo (Rodgers 90)