Chelsea began the defence of their Barclays Premier Reserve League title on Monday afternoon with a 3-2 victory over a talented Sunderland outfit.
First half goals from Adam Phillip and Patrick van Aanholt cancelled out Oumare Tounkara’s opener before Milan Lalkovic clinched the win thirteen minutes from time after Roarie Deacon had levelled with his first touch.
Dermot Drummy, coaching his first competitive match at this level, was able to pick from a healthy squad of players, with many of the more experienced faces yet to head out in loan.
That meant places for Rhys Taylor, Jacob Mellis, Conor Clifford and Adam Phillip, whilst Patrick van Aanholt came down from the first team squad and captained the side from left-back.
Sunderland included former Chelsea youngster Billy Knott and had extra experience in Trevor Carson and Matthew Kilgallon, but theirs was also a youthful outfit and they asserted themselves on affairs early in the game.
The first chance of the match fell to Carl Magnay, who connected with Billy Clifford’s free kick on the edge of the box, but his header was both tame and deflected, and allowed Carson to gather easily in front of goal.
Most of the Blues’ early play went through Kaby, who was playing in an advanced midfield role in the space behind Phillip up front, and it the Portuguese who popped up at close range to turn Phillip’s cutback towards goal, but he was denied by a last-ditch block.
In front of both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo, the club’s second string were playing in a very similar manner to that of their senior counterparts, adopting a high defensive line and an open approach in midfield encouraging quick passing and transition of the ball into the attacking phase.
Good work between Lalkovic and Kaby saw half an opening emerge for Phillip on the edge of the box but the ball became stuck under his foot and Sunderland were able to clear.
The Black Cats had been on the back foot at times but began to press possession more and found some joy and a way into the match. The lively Jordan Cook looked particularly dangerous in possession captain Adam Reed was in impressive form in the middle of the park.
Their first sight of goal came when Taylor misjudged a corner and almost saw a header creep in at the far post, before the Welshman was on hand to deny first Tounkara and then Kilgallon with a smart swat over the crossbar.
Taking advantage of their best spell of the match, Sunderland took the lead shortly before the half hour mark and owed it all to Cook. The midfielder took on Mellis and Todd Kane down the left before delivering a perfect cross which allowed the unmarked Tounkara to nod home one of the easier goals he’ll ever score.
It was just about deserved on the balance of play, but Chelsea were far from out of it and were able to restore parity some five minutes later, and in some style.
Billy Clifford, carrying the charge from midfield, drove towards the edge of the area but saw his path to goal blocked by red and white shirts. He deftly spun and flicked a ball over the Sunderland back line and into the path of Phillip, who flicked a volley past the onrushing Carson and into the bottom corner.
If the equaliser was precise and cute in equal measure, the goal which gave the Blues a half time lead minutes later was emphatic and decisive. Kaby carried possession forward and released the ball into the left side of the penalty area, where it was met by van Aanholt.
The left-back took a touch to steady himself before rifling an unstoppable effort across goal and into the bottom corner. Perhaps it was a little unfair on the visitors but Chelsea had created more in front of goal and were now converting chances to goals.
It could’ve been more before the break as well but both Billy Clifford and Phillip spurned fine openings with wayward finishes and instead the lead was just one goal at the break.
The first chances of the second stanza came from headers, with Lalkovic and Egan both missing the target with good opportunities from close range at either end.
Sensational football from Chelsea saw multiple players involved in a move which culminated in Carson denying a fierce drive from Kaby, whilst Taylor had to get down low to deny Tounkara a second in a game which was becoming a tad stretched.
Sunderland boss Keith Bertschin was the first to delve into his options from the bench and the introduction of Roarie Deacon and Adam Mitchell proved an inspired one, as the pair immediately combined for an equaliser.
Mitchell beat van Aanholt easily down the right and fired across the face of goal, where Deacon was waiting to turn home with his first touch. They had been on the pitch less than a minute.
They were nearly ahead again moments later when Taylor stopped first from Cook and them Armstrong, perhaps a tad fortunately from the latter. In doing so he tweaked his right hamstring but was able to continue.
Phillip appeared to be Chelsea’s best chance of finding a winner, as he continued to pop up in dangerous positions, but fatigue was beginning to affect his performance and half chances he would have pounced on in the first half now ran away from him.
Lalkovic, though, was his effervescent self and secured the first victory of the campaign with just under a quarter of the match remaining. A fabulous ball from Mellis took the defence out of the game and sprung the Slovakian forward, who steadied himself before lashing home.
Sunderland could have earned a share of the points – which would probably have been deserved – in the closing moments but Armstrong curled agonisingly wide of Taylor’s right hand post, and instead they fell to a 3-2 defeat.
There will have been more complete performances than this from Chelsea, but there were plenty of encouraging signs and some impressive football in spells. As players depart on loan over the coming days and weeks, Drummy will be forced to shuffle his pack again, but he will be happy with an opening day victory.
Team: Taylor, Kane, Kalas, Magnay, van Aanholt (c), C.Clifford, Mellis (Ince 90), Kaby (Saville 81), B.Clifford (Mitrovic 72), Lalkovic, Phillip
Subs not Used: Blackman, Deen-Conteh
Goals: Phillip 34, van Aanholt 39, Lalkovic 77