Chelsea secured their first Reserve League crown since 1994 on Monday night with a comfortable 3-0 win against Wolves and set up a showpiece final against Manchester United or Blackburn, to be played next Monday at Stamford Bridge.
Goals from George Saville, Adam Phillip and Gokhan Tore ensured the Blues picked up the three points they needed to usurp Arsenal from Group C’s summit, and in truth they could have scored ten in what was one of their most impressive outings of the season.
In one of two changes from last Thursday night’s defeat at Manchester City, Ross Turnbull replaced the ill Jan Sebek in goal. Goalscorer Saville came into the midfield ahead of Michael Woods, and played in a more advanced role, allowing Josh McEachran to play in the anchoring role he has featured in for the first team.
Wolves selected a young side including Northern Ireland international Johnny Gorman but were up against it from the off, with goalkeeper Aaron McCarey making the first of a number of saves in the early stages in palming Conor Clifford’s shot away for a corner.
Milan Lalkovic drew another save before having an effort ruled out for offside, but an early goal was inevitable and duly arrived before the quarter hour mark.
It came from an unusual source, but as Gokhan Tore found Adam Phillip with a wonderful crossfield ball, Saville arrived on cue to turn home the ball across the face of goal.
In just his second start at this level, the versatile midfielder grabbed his second goal of the season, having broken his duck in the FA Youth Cup away to Sunderland earlier this year.
He clearly had the taste for more goals, firing over the crossbar minutes later as Chelsea queued up to try their luck. The movement of the front three was causing problems for the visiting defence, with Lalkovic running into the left side channels allowing Phillip to move into space inside, and Tore constantly on the move.
The lead was doubled midway through the half in a moment goalkeeper McCarey will want to forget. Phillip’s shot from the edge of the box was a decidedly tame one, but the young stopper spilled the ball through his legs and over the line, in what can only be described as a ‘Gomes moment’.
Phillip connected much better with his next effort, but was unable to keep it from flying into the empty Shed End. Lalkovic was then denied once again by a diving block from Ethan Ebanks-Landell inside the box.
Wolves had a rare moment of action in the Chelsea penalty box when forward Griffiths got on the end of Gorman’s free kick, but Turnbull was not troubled as the effort trickled wide.
Phillip saw another strike disallowed for offside before Lalkovic spurned another opportunity. McEachran went agonisingly close with a fizzing drive from 25 yards out which skimmed the top of the crossbar.
Magnay drew yet another save from the over-worked McCarey before Phillip brought the first half to a close by missing a sitter when presented with time and space to pick his finish.
It had been 45 minutes of Chelsea dominance and they started the second half in a similar fashion, wasting little time in scoring the clinching goal.
It was certainly one worth the entrance fee. Turnbull collected a corner and set about launching a counter attack with a fifty yard throw to the foot of Lalkovic. He released possession to Phillip, who spotted Tore surging up on the right.
He found his man with a perfect through ball, and the Turkish winger set himself before steering a right-footed shot into the far corner to cap a sumptuous move.
With the win and top spot in the bag, Chelsea began to play with even more freedom, clearly enjoying the occasion. Bertrand let fly from distance but his effort was matched by a flying McCarey stop.
Kalas then arrived on cue from a corner but met the ball at his midriff rather than with his head or his feet, and was unable to bundle the ball over the line from close range.
Tore drove over from a tight angle whilst McAlinden forced Turnbull to make his first stop of the night some seventy minutes into the match.
The Blues took their foot off the gas in the closing stages, choosing to play the ball around in a relaxed manner, leaving something in the locker for next week’s final.
Michael Woods, Aziz Deen-Conteh and Bobby Devyne all came on for cameo substitute appearances, whilst a battle of strength between Tore and Hemmings – won by the former – provided a moment of comedy late in the game.
The full time whistle drew scenes of celebration as Steve Holland gathered his young charges – including those who have returned from loan – for a congratulatory talk before Magnay began spraying the Barclays-provided champagne.
It represents a first reserve league top spot since 1994, and whilst the team will enjoy tonight, attentions will be on the winner of Wednesday’s Northern section playoff.
On tonight’s form, Chelsea will take some beating.
Team: Turnbull, Kane, Kalas, Magnay, Bertrand (c) (Deen-Conteh 85), McEachran, C.Clifford, Saville (Woods 80), Gokhan Tore, Phillip, Lalkovic (Devyne 90)
Subs not Used: Blackman, Nkumu
Goals: Saville ’10, Phillip ’24, Tore ’48
Check out Dan Davies’ excellent match photographs HERE.