Under-18s: Chelsea 1-2 Plymouth

The World Cup is all well and good, but normal service has resumed.

Domestic football is back, not only at first team level, but in the Under-18 team.

Whilst Carlo Ancelotti’s boys were stretching their legs at Crystal Palace, Dermot Drummy’s youth team opened their pre-season with a closely-fought defeat at the hands of a talented Plymouth Argyle outfit.

Drummy chose to operate with a squad of 22 players, who all saw playing time at some point, with everyone working towards fitness over the summer period.
Many of those involved were schoolboys, new faces at least a year away from a scholarship, but keen to impress when handed an opportunity.

Two who were included in the starting eleven were cultured midfielder John Swift, who featured twice last season, and quick Tanzanian-born forward Adam Nditi.

They came into a side featuring new scholars Blackman, Kane, and Nkumu, whilst Aziz Deen-Conteh captained the side and Philipp Prosenik led the line, shorn of his long blond locks of months ago.

It was Kane who had an early sight of goal, coming onto a ball 30 yards out in a move started by Nditi, and his effort was well hit, drawing a neat save low to the goalkeeper’s right. The young right-back had finished last season in superb form and picked up where he left off.

The early stages were being edged by the hosts, who had the better of possession and were creating chances. Anton Rodgers carved the Argyle defence apart with a lovely through ball to release Prosenik, who had all the time in the world to pick a finish.

He tried to flick the ball over the goalkeeper, but once again he was equal to the task, staying big and clawing it away.

Rodgers was involved in much of the good play created by the Blues and was next in line to test the goalkeeper, firing a well-hit half volley from the edge of the area. It was headed for the roof of the net before being beaten away for a corner.

Plymouth came forward well but without great conviction, perhaps unsure of themselves, but elsewhere they were answering the questions asked of them.

Fortune favoured Bobby Devyne minutes later when he blocked a clearance and found himself in the same position as Prosenik had been earlier. A lack of composure meant his attempted lob of a bouncing ball sailed well over the target.

The closer the game got to half time, the more confident the visitors became, and they had a quite vociferous penalty appeal turned down for a tackle by Deen-Conteh on the edge of the box.

Kane had another effort from distance miss the target by not much at all but in the closing stages of the first 45 minutes, it was Plymouth who looked like scoring.

First, they had further grievances with the officials when a close range header was touched onto the crossbar by Jamal Blackman, with claims that the ball had crossed the goalline.

With no goal given, they came forward again, and a lovely flowing move almost resulted in a fantastic goal, with the final shot missing the far post by mere inches.

Both teams took half time on the field with the afternoon weather improving by the minute in Surrey, and when the action resumed, Chelsea had made two changes, with defenders Nortei Lawrence and Samuel Bangura on in place of Prosenik and Rodgers.

Kane moved up to the right wing with Devyne taking the striking role, whilst Nkumu slotted into midfield for Bangura to play alongside Deen-Conteh.

As the sun beat down, the action slowed, and not much happened of any note. Plymouth had the first effort at goal ten minutes into the second stanza but Blackman watched it by the post with great disinterest.

At the other end some nimble footwork from Swift conjured a shooting opportunity, but the initial shot was heading wide. A deflection took it on target, but it also took all the pace off the ball and safely into the goalkeeper’s hands.

Deen-Conteh did put the ball into the back of the net, heading home from a long distance free kick, but he was adjudged to have been offside, and there were few complaints from the hosts.

Mass changes ensued, with first years Danny Stenning and Reece Loudon joined by schoolboys Lewis Baker, Conor Hubble, Alex Davey, Ismail Seremba, and Walter Figueira, leaving just Deen-Conteh and Blackman from the starting eleven.

Stenning went close almost immediately, linking well in the midfield and driving a low left-footed effort just wide of the post.

Seremba, Davey and Baker also had sights of goal, but none of their attempts found the target, and their waywardness was to cost them, as Plymouth took the lead with a little more than ten minutes remaining.

Static defending from an Argyle corner saw one of their bigger lads move onto the ball and meet it with a powerful header from six yards, which left replacement goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney with no chance.

The young Chelsea side – now with Ince instead of Deen-Conteh – looked a beaten side and minutes later Plymouth sealed their win in style.

A poor clearance came back quickly with the Blues caught high up the pitch, allowing a forward in behind. With the ball bouncing, he deftly flicked it with the outside of his boot over Beeney and into the back of the net from the edge of the area. A quite beautiful goal.

Chelsea were able to stage some late drama when Stenning converted from the penalty spot, having been fouled receiving the ball inside the area, but there was little time to create another chance, and the referee ended affairs without much stoppage time.

As the first match of pre-season the result is not important, but Plymouth deserve every credit for their performance and were value for the win.

Chelsea came into the match with the intention of using a large squad, taking the whole process of preparing for the season into account, and it showed, with players clearly tiring at different stages.

Some of those involved today will drop back to the Under-16 ranks regularly, and some other names will come back into the fold, like Amin Affane, who was absent on this occasion, and Nathaniel Chalobah, who was with the first team.

Nonetheless, the core of the youth team squad for the 2010/11 season will come from today’s selection, and it promises to be an interesting one based on this afternoon’s offering.

A team which is getting ever younger, pushing players through to levels above their age group at a healthier rate than in previous years, with the intention of developing a more complete player at a younger age.

It’ll be a year to watch.

Team: Blackman (Beeney 85), Kane (Seremba 65), Nkumu (Davey 65), Deen-Conteh (c) (Ince 75), Sampayo (Loudon 65), Saville (Hubble 65), Rodgers (Lawrence 45), Swift (Stenning 65), Devyne (Baker 65), Nditi (Figueira 65), Prosenik (Bangura 45)

Goals: Stenning ’88 pen