So this is what a win feels like.
It hasn’t been the best pre-season to date, at least from a results point of view. The first team have lost their last three, the reserves have lost all three, and before this morning, the Under-18 team had lost their only fixture.
They put that right, however, in the form of an entertaining 3-2 victory over Wycombe Wanderers in a match where the action was as unpredictable as the weather.
George Saville’s opener was cancelled out by two excellent strikes before the break, but Milan Lalkovic scored one and created the winner for Bobby Devyne to put one in the win column for the first time since mid July.
Manager Dermot Drummy had a smaller squad to call upon than last time out against Plymouth but found room for two schoolboys in his starting team, with a further four on the bench.
With Jamal Blackman having played at Woking in midweek, Mitchell Beeney was handed the start in goal, whilst John Swift stepped up after a magnificent Milk Cup tournament. Ben Sampayo partnered Archange Nkumu at the back, Anton Rodgers captained the side, and Philipp Prosenik led the line as the lone forward.
It was the visitors, however, who would make the bright start and they should have been ahead inside a minute. A devastating run down the right from their number seven saw an excellent cross into the six yard box, but the ensuing effort was wasteful.
Devyne would prove to have an interesting afternoon in Chelsea’s seven shirt and he had the first shot in anger at the visiting goal, catching his effort sweetly, but watched a deflection take it wide of the top corner.
Barely ten minutes were on the clock when the hosts took the lead, and it came in fortuitous circumstances. George Saville’s right-footed effort was struck cleanly, but straight at the goalkeeper. With both surface and ball wet though, it skidded through his grasp and trickled over the line, despite his scrambling effort to retrieve.
The lead didn’t last very long though, and the Chairboys equalised with a superb counter attack led by their superb seven. His pace and strength were causing endless problems for Reece Loudon at left back, and his pass inside was brilliantly finished into the top corner from the edge of the box by the number ten.
Goalmouth action was coming thick and fast, with Devyne finding himself in the position to add to the scoreline twice in quick succession. His first effort was wasteful, missing the target on the turn from six yards out, whilst the second saw a clumsy loss of possession when bearing down on goal, having beaten the defender for pace.
He did for his man again shortly afterwards, and was duly felled on the edge of the area. In a competitive fixture the Wycombe defender would have surely been sent off, but in the interest of pre-season, he remained on the pitch.
Saville came close to ensuring some sort of justice was served, but his placed free kick hit the post and bounced to safety. After not finding the net at all last season, the first half was something of a novelty for the new professional, but he was impressing.
As was Wycombe’s flying winger. Nkumu attempted to lend a hand to Loudon in adding some size and pace to defending that side, but he too was simply too slow to compete.
The visitors had the lead minutes before half time in a flowing move which came from the right, affording the goalscorer to double his tally with another superb finish inside, although the lack of marking was noticeable.
Drummy made some changes at the break in both personnel and position. Adam Nditi and Lewis Baker came into the action to replace the rather terrorised Loudon and the wholly ineffectual Prosenik.
To accommodate the arrivals, Sampayo moved to right-back, Kane to left-back, and George Saville to centre-back. Saville and Kane were now tasked with dealing with the seven better than Nkumu and Loudon had. Devyne, meanwhile, took up a central striking spot, with Nditi left and Lalkovic right, and Baker slotting into Saville’s midfield berth.
Despite moving further back, Saville continued to influence the game. He marauded forwards and found himself on the right wing, inside the area. His cross was brilliant, but nobody in blue committed to it, and the defence were able to clear.
Devyne was having a frustrating day and it didn’t get much better when he wasted another gilt-edged chance, shooting straight at the goalkeeper when through one on one. He was almost made to pay, with only the crossbar denying Wycombe a third after Beeney had been beaten with a chip from the edge of the area.
Swift made way for another starlet of the Milk Cup campaign in Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and he had an immediate impact, winning a penalty within minutes of coming on. A cross from the left found him on the edge of the area, and as he looked to advance, a nudge in the back was enough to knock him over.
Lalkovic stepped up confidently and, rather predictably, chipped his effort down the middle to make it 2-2. Another schoolboy entered the field with Nortei Lawrence coming on for Sampayo as Chelsea looked to seize the momentum and push on for a winner.
Lalkovic had come alive, and although he was denied a volleyed effort by a strong parry, he wouldn’t (quite) be denied, as the game’s fifth and final goal settled matters halfway through the second period.
A long ball was spun in over the Wycombe defence, allowing the Slovakian through on goal. His effort was stopped but the ball kept going towards the net, where Devyne was on hand to smash it over the line from no more than an inch out.
Lalkovic’s protestations to his reserve team colleagues watching on the sidelines caused much amusement, but he was perhaps a little miffed that he had a goal stolen from him. Nonetheless, Chelsea had the lead.
It wasn’t just the reserve team watching on with interest. Steve Holland, Ray Wilkins, a number of additional backroom staff and Neil Barnett were all on hand to take in the action, as was John Terry. It was also good to see James Ashton back around. Although he wasn’t training, he continues to work his way back to fitness after a terrible twelve months injured.
Loudon came back on for Lalkovic, who had played a full match at Woking, and went close to sealing the win with a late curling effort. Rodgers followed it up with a fierce drive wide from the same distance, but Wycombe looked a shadow of their first half selves.
Their most effective player had been much quieter under the shackles of Kane and Saville, and despite a concerted late effort to pile on the pressure, they were unable to breach Beeney’s goal again, and as the bright sunshine came out to drive away the rain which had been falling for some time, the referee brought an end to a fine morning’s entertainment.
Saville had an outstanding game in both midfield and defence, and has really grown in stature, both figuratively and literally, in the last twelve months. Kane and Sampayo were impressive and the latter marshalled a young back line well, whilst Lalkovic was dangerous throughout as the favoured out ball into attack.
It’s good to be back winning. Here’s to many more this season, especially when competition gets underway.
Team: Beeney, Kane, Sampayo (Lawrence 70), Nkumu, Loudon (Nditi 45), Rodgers (c), Saville, Swift (Loftus-Cheek 60), Lalkovic (Loudon 75), Devyne, Prosenik (Baker 45)
Goals: Saville ‘8, Lalkovic ’61 pen, Devyne 70
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