Chelsea’s Reserve team opened their 2011 pre-season schedule with a 6-1 defeat to League Two new boys Crawley Town.
A mixed team which included experience in the likes of Jacob Mellis alongside the youthful endeavour of first year Adam Nditi went down courtesy of goals from Matt Tubbs (2), John Akinde, Wes Thomas (2) and Tyrone Barnett.
The Reds have already been in preparation mode for over a fortnight and have playing time under their belt, so were always going to be a tough match for a Blues side which has been back barely a week.
Dermot Drummy, in his first match coaching the club at this level, sprung something of a surprise with his team sheet when Sam Hutchinson’s name appeared on it.
The young defender announced his retirement last summer after a series of chronic knee problems, but appeared in the starting line-up at Broadfield Stadium.
Rhys Taylor donned the gloves in goal whilst there were also places for Mesca, Marko Mitrovic and Archange Nkumu. The rest of the team was largely drawn from last season’s national championship winning side, although the bench included Lewis Baker and Alex Davey, both first year scholars, and James Ashton, who has been out injured for almost two full seasons.
The match started with Crawley on the front foot and it rarely deviated from that path. Tubbs was presented with something of an open goal inside the opening two minutes but his finish lacked conviction and allowed Taylor to sprawl across to make the save.
He didn’t have to wait long to make amends. A long ball down the right saw hulking forward Akinde shrug off the attentions of Nkumu before hooking a ball across which Tubbs nodded into the back of the net.
One became two before the quarter hour mark had been reached, with Tubbs doubling his tally from the penalty spot. A cross from the right was handled under pressure by Hutchinson, and whilst it appeared he was pushed, there was little by way of protest.
Tubbs, who scored almost 40 goals in Crawley’s promotion winning campaign last season, stepped up to beat Taylor, who went the right way but was unable to record another spot kick stop after saving five last season.
Chelsea had barely gotten out of the blocks and save for an Adam Phillip shot he really should have done better with, they hadn’t tested Scott Shearer in the home goal.
Good work from Nditi down the left created an opening for Mitrovic, but the Swedish forward saw his effort blocked by Kyle McFadzean.
Taylor was then called into action to turn a Sergio Torres shot around the post but the red onslaught continued and it was to be 3-0 midway through the first half.
It came from Akinde, and was almost a carbon copy of the game’s opening goal. Neilson’s cross hung in the air and the header arrived in the middle of the goal with no challenge evident.
Nditi was the rare bright spark in response, showing quick feet and a tenacious attitude down the left.
Phillip’s free kick had Shearer scrambling whilst Saville’s neat exchange with Nditi failed to culminate in a shot at goal.
Half time signalled a host of Crawley substitutions and a pair for Chelsea as Jamal Blackman replaced Taylor in goal and Hutchinson took a break with Davey entering in his stead.
Blackman was quickly drawn into action, stretching to tip Ben Smith’s shot over the bar after Nkumu lost concentration and squandered possession on the edge of his own area.
Smith then showed impressive moment to run inside Davey but his left-footed finish dragged wide of the far post.
When Chelsea got going again, it was Nditi who was once again involved. He did well to beat two men coming in from the right having swapped wings, but blazed his shot high and over the stand behind the goal.
Inevitably, Crawley added to the scoresheet with new signing Wes Thomas applying the finish from Tyler Barnett’s pull back, but this time the goal spurred Chelsea into their best spell of the afternoon.
It coincided with Mellis finally getting a grip on the game. Donning the captain’s armband with Hutchinson having gone off, his drive and execution in midfield greatly improved and after laying on a chance for Nditi which wound up with Mitrovic missing, he claimed a deserved assist.
A perfectly weighted through ball released Phillip, who went outside his man before delivering a shot which beat Shearer and went in off the post.
Crawley had clearly stepped off the gas to a degree but Saville wasted a glorious opening by wanting the ball on his left foot before Phillip was denied a second by the post.
Again latching onto a Mellis delivery, he kept his head to dance around home defenders but this time the post was his foe, bouncing the ball back out to him. The rebound itself was a good opportunity but Crawley got men back in numbers and scrambled clear.
Ashton, Prosenik and Baker all got on for a twenty minute run but as Chelsea tired in the closing stages, the scoreline took on a slightly exaggerated look.
Barnett became the fourth Town forward to find the net when he ghosted in between Kane and Davey to head into the top corner, and that was followed by Thomas’ second of the afternoon, bundling home as Smith was denied by Blackman.
Referee Atkins said no to two very convincing home penalty appeals and Thomas hit the crossbar in stoppage time, so Crawley will claim that the 6-1 win was not flattering in the slightest, but the Blues should have little shame in losing to a team many fancy to be promotion contenders this season.
They were ruthless in their approach and in their efficiency, with Blackman only being forced to make a real save late in the second half. When they had a chance, they scored and they took advantage of some rustiness and some inexperience in their opponent’s ranks.
For Chelsea, it’s the first of three pre-season games on domestic shores, and the team will now head to Austria for a ten-day stint where they’ll take in at least one match.
Mellis and Phillip showed why they should be able to play at a higher level this season whilst there was plenty of optimism from the displays of the three first years on show.
Additionally, Hutchinson, Ashton and Prosenik all came through unscathed after lengthy periods out injured and will hope to stay that way for the months ahead.
In other news, Chelsea’s Under-18 team beat Colchester United 2-0 in their pre-season opener at Cobham. Ali Gordon and Bertrand Traore scored to down the League One outfit.
Team: Taylor (Blackman 45), Kane, Hutchinson (c) (Davey 45), Nkumu, Deen-Conteh, Mellis, Saville (Ashton 71), Mesca (Baker 71), Nditi, Phillip, Mitrovic (Prosenik 71)
Goal: Phillip 64
A selection of photos from the match can be viewed HERE.