A bright opening spell from Chelsea’s Reserve team saw them score two goals which proved to be enough for a hard-fought three points against Aston Villa.
The win puts the Blues into outright second place in the Southern league table and keeps them as favourites to claim top spot. An early own goal was followed by a fine strike by Adam Phillip, and whilst Samir Carruthers pulled one back, Chelsea were good value for the win.
Steve Holland was able to call upon a more experienced team than he was able to use last week away to Manchester United, with Todd Kane, Tomas Kalas and captain Ryan Bertrand making up a much stronger defensive unit.
Josh McEachran replaced the injured Kaby, whilst Nathaniel Chalobah came back in for Michael Woods and Marko Mitrovic made way for Lalkovic, with the FA Youth Cup exit last Wednesday facilitating a stronger reserve unit.
Villa featured fewer experienced names than usual with the likes of Barry Bannan and Nathan Delfouneso out on loan, but found room for Chris Herd and Nathan Baker, who both have first team outings this season.
The Blues started with positive intent, as if keen to rebound from a disappointing week in Manchester and show what they’re truly made of. Conor Clifford’s early strike from the edge of the box was well blocked by Baker, but the hosts didn’t have to wait long to open the scoring.
Tore’s corner found the head of Carl Magnay, and after Lalkovic had swung at the ball, goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist managed to drop the ball over his own goalline. The centre back will claim the goal but it must go down as an own goal by the Swiss stopper.
Well on top after just ten minutes, Chelsea looked dangerous with every attack. Chalobah’s marauding run caused more problems for the Villa defence, but Lalkovic’s eventual shot curled high and wide.
It was 2-0 just after a quarter of an hour, and if the first goal was a scrappy affair, the second was sublime. McEachran broke up possession in his own half and advanced with the ball.
Lalkovic peeled away with the first run but the England Under-21 midfielder held onto the ball and instead released Phillip with a perfectly weighted pass. The striker moved onto it from the left wing and stroked it past Siegrist to double the lead.
This is Phillip’s first injury-free season for the best part of three years and we are finally able to see the talent that he has. The goal was his seventh of the reserve campaign, second to top scorer Fabio Borini.
Blues goalkeeper Jan Sebek then had to be alert to get down well and palm Burke’s fiercely struck shot onto the post as the home defence looked all at sea, and it was to signal the start of Villa’s best spell of the half.
Two half chances for Lalkovic were spurned before Carruthers halved the deficit with his second goal against Chelsea this season. Poor defending saw the ball run loose outside the box and the former Arsenal schoolboy struck it sweetly to leave Sebek with no chance.
Lalkovic had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down when he fell running across Baker’s path, but Burke missed a fine chance to equalise in response, dragging his left-footed shot wide of the far post.
The same player wasted another effort at goal before the break, but it was Chalobah who had the final word of the half as his thumping header was cleared off the line by Durrell Berry.
Villa started the second half as the better side and looked to restore parity as quickly as possible. Bertrand had to be alert to deny Gardner a certain goal at the far post, whilst in general Chelsea struggled to get out of their own half.
That changed when Tore went on a quite brilliant run which culminated in a good shot that Siegrist was nonetheless equal to.
Gardner’s free kick from just outside the box had Sebek stranded when it deflected off a blue shirt in the wall, but it fell wide of the target.
It was a second half which truly paled in comparison to the hectic nature of the first, and whilst Villa were well on top, goalmouth action was minimal. Burke curled a low shot with his left which Sebek gobbled up easily with twenty minutes remaining.
Kevin McDonald was the first to change things, bringing Daniel Devine into the game for goalscorer Carruthers, but instead it was Chelsea who picked up their play and looked the more threatening.
McEachran released Bertrand but the young left-back’s cross was cleared, before Phillip found some space but saw his shot blocked after hesitating on striking it.
Lampkin kept things honest at the other end with a devilish cross which evaded Berry at the far post, although had the defender committed himself to getting on the end of it there was a sure goal in it for him.
Michael Woods replaced Lalkovic, who had run himself into the ground as usual, before chances followed for either side. Johnson’s half volley appeared goalbound before flicking off the head of a team-mate and flying over, before Tore found Phillip but he in turn could only shoot straight at Siegrist.
Phillip made way for the last five minutes as Marko Mitrovic came on, but the game had degenerated into a scrappy affair. Tore and then Woods had shots blocked consecutively in search of a goal to kill the game off, before Berry hit the bar in stoppage time to leave hearts in mouths at Cobham.
They were able to hold onto three valuable points however, as they move within a point of league leaders Arsenal. The Gunners finish their campaign against Manchester United on Thursday, but two wins from Chelsea’s last two games away to Manchester City and home to Wolves (at Stamford Bridge) will see Holland’s boys into the Reserve League Final.
Team: Sebek, Kane, Magnay, Kalas, Bertrand (c), Chalobah, C.Clifford, McEachran, Tore, Phillip (Mitrovic 85), Lalkovic (Woods 80)
Subs not Used: Blackman, Deen-Conteh, Saville