If pre-season is anything to go by, it’s going to be an entertaining and frustrating academy season.
Dermot Drummy’s boys finished their summer schedule with a second defeat in three as an Andre Landell double sandwiching one from Jake Kempton saw Wolves come away from Cobham with a 3-2 victory.
Chelsea had their chances and found the back of the net through Philipp Prosenik and George Saville but ultimately fell short.
Drummy chose to field more of an experienced team ahead of Manchester United’s visit next weekend, and included Sam Walker in goal, Aziz Deen-Conteh at left-back, and Milan Lalkovic in attack.
Elsewhere, there was some positional experimentation. Amin Affane – making his first youth team appearance – lined up as a holding midfielder instead of in a more advanced role, whilst Todd Kane played in the middle of the park as well. George Saville started alongside Archange Nkumu in central defence after impressing in the second half of last week’s win over Wycombe.
A lively start from Chelsea belied what was to follow. Affane unleashed a powerful early effort which was tipped over, before Kane skied one inside the six yard box at the end of an electrifying counter-attack led by the surging Deen-Conteh.
Unfortunately, in spurning the chance, the Blues were made to pay as Wolves grabbed an early lead. A set piece was defended in a sloppy fashion, and despite strong claims of Landell being offside, he was left alone with time and space to take a touch and slot past Walker.
The poor defending continued and minutes later the visitors had doubled their advantage. The ball pinged around Chelsea’s area with nobody taking responsibility to clear it, and Walker could only palm a save into the path of Kempton, and the Surrey-born forward tucked away possibly the easiest goal of his career.
Rather shocked, took a short while for the youngsters to find their feet again, but came close to reducing the deficit when Lalkovic fired a free kick inches over the crossbar. However, if Prosenik had been in more clinical form, the game may have been entirely different.
The Austrian could easily have had a first-half hat-trick, but spurned two clear one on one chances. The first of these came after a lovely piece of skill to beat the last defender, but as he struggled to hold him off en route to the goal, the ball bounced off him, past the goalkeeper, and ran wide of the post.
He fared better with his next chance, and made the scoreline 1-2. A flowing move starting back in their own area ended with Devyne crossing an absolute peach of a delivery into the area, where Prosenik thumped a header past the goalkeeper. He could hardly have wished for a better cross, and the game was well and truly back on.
Indeed, it should have been level shortly afterwards. The impressive Stenning played a ball in through the channel which Prosenik latched onto, and this time he was well on his way. Once again though, he failed to profit, and watched his attempt to slide the ball into the corner hit the goalkeeper’s legs and run clear to safety.
At the other end, Wolves reminded Chelsea that they were still firmly in with a chance as Landell clipped the crossbar from distance and Kempton flashed one wide just before the teams headed for the dressing rooms after an entertaining first half. Two years ago they had shared a 4-4 thriller in pre-season, and this wasn’t far off halfway through.
Four changes came from Drummy at the break, with Reece Loudon joined by schoolboys John Swift, Lewis Baker and Adam Nditi Making way were Stenning, Kane, Affane and Prosenik, and more positional realignments meant Saville was now in midfield with Baker and Swift, whilst Devyne led the line.
Frustratingly, the lead was once again two mere minutes after the restart. Nkumu’s backpass to Deen-Conteh was fluffed as the Under-19 call-up missed his kick, and Landell gleefully slotted past Walker for a second time. It was an unfortunate error, one out of keeping with his form over the last year, but one they could hardly afford to dwell on.
Devyne drew a good save in response after a nice run and shot, whilst Baker was inches away from connecting with Nditi’s cross, but as the game wore on, Wolves looked more and more comfortable. They were able to keep the ball at will, moving it around well, and using their superior strength to ease off the committed running of the home team.
A fourth goal was chalked off for offside, perhaps balancing out the opener, whilst at the other end another Lalkovic free kick soared high and wide.
Kane re-entered the action, replacing captain Ben Sampayo, with the armband going over to Saville. He and Swift were leading the charge with some tough tackling and nimble footwork, and a sense of urgency picked up in the team as time ran closer to the end.
Devyne’s sliced cross hit the crossbar with the goalkeeper flapping, before a poor touch wasted an opening created by Nditi, whilst fortune favoured Walker at the other end as his clearance slammed into Nkumu, but held up on the turf instead of skidding into the back of the net.
With time almost up, Chelsea gave themselves a chance. Lalkovic did well to create space on the edge of the area, where Saville took over, danced into the area, and slammed his shot into the top corner for his second goal in as many games.
Lalkovic had the final effort for the Blues as he found some room to fashion a shot but it hit the side netting, but the final word went to the victors as Landell headed wide what would have been his hat-trick effort. As Walker rushed to restart, the referee blew the final whistle.
It wasn’t the most convincing performance, but was good in spells, particularly in attack. Stenning had a fine first half whilst Saville and Swift were excellent in the second, but there will need to be an improvement ahead of the league opener next weekend.
Team: Walker, Sampayo (c) (Kane 75), Nkumu, Saville, Deen-Conteh, Affane (Swift 45), Stenning (Baker 45), Kane (Loudon 45), Devyne, Lalkovic, Prosenik (Nditi 45)
Goals: Prosenik ’31, Saville ‘87
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