Reserve team football can often be uninspiring, lukewarm affairs, but a pulsating West London derby was played out on Monday night at Motspur Park as Fulham and Chelsea shared four goals in a game of two halves.
First half strikes by Orlando Sá and Tom Donegan had Billy McKinlay’s team well in control but a fantastic turnaround capped by goals by Milan Lalkovic and Nathaniel Chalobah earned the Blues a deserved point, whilst a late missed penalty cost them all three.
With the match being played just 24 hours before the Carling Cup tie at home to Liverpool , the more experienced faces of Ryan Bertrand, Josh McEachran and Romelu Lukaku were unavailable for selection.
Dermot Drummy handed a start to Jamal Blackman in goal ahead of Rhys Taylor, whilst Carl Magnay’s return from injury allowed Ben Gordon to move to his preferred position at left-back. Sam Hutchinson’s absence meant Chalobah captained the team.
Fulham included Hungarian goalkeeper Csaba Somogyi and Bjorn Helge Riise in addition to Portuguese international forward Sá and dominated the first half, showing their intent from the off in almost taking a first minute lead.
Blackman’s attempted clearance was mis-hit and landed at the feet of former Everton forward Donegan, who sent a looping effort back towards goal.
The giant goalkeeper got a hand to the effort and slowed the ball enough to allow Todd Kane to clear the ball off the line, but the Cottagers wouldn’t have to wait much longer to go ahead.
A poor corner from the right was easily cleared, but from Riise’s return delivery, Sá was able to get between Magnay and Marko Mitrovic to head past Blackman from close range.
Chelsea had been denied a decent penalty shout when Mitrovic and Dan Burn got into a tangle in the penalty box, whilst Gordon’s marauding run forward ended in a smartly hit effort which Somogyi did well to deal with.
Brazilian forward Lucas Piazon was making his third appearance for the Blues’ second string and came close to scoring his first goal in England midway through the half when he connected with Billy Clifford’s in-swinging free kick, but his headed effort was off target.
Instead, Fulham went down the other end and scored a second with surprising ease. A simple ball in behind left Chelsea two against two at the back, which allowed Donegan to beat Rohan Ince and drag his shot beyond the despairing dive of Blackman.
Kane’s trademark endeavour and hard work down the right threatened to bring Chelsea back into the game before the break, particularly when he found Piazon open inside the box, but the Brazilian’s shot was very well saved by Somogyi.
The Blues started the second half in much better fashion, playing more of the game in the Fulham half of the pitch and moving the ball quicker across the surface.
A wonderful slowing move involving six players saw Chalobah at the heart of the play at both ends, bursting through the middle to go within inches of scoring a cheeky backheeled effort.
Blackman though had to remain focused at the other end and was equal to a well hit effort by Sá which he got down well to.
Chelsea’s improvement in tempo and closing down was much better and had them very much in control of the game, and midway through the second period they hauled themselves back into contention.
Mitrovic’s hold-up play just inside the Fulham half brought others into play, allowing Chalobah to pick up possession and deliver an inch-perfect ball over the top for Lalkovic, who volleyed past Somogyi for his fifth goal of the season.
It had Fulham on the ropes, and had Magnay converted Lalkovic’s cross from some three yards out moments later, Chelsea would’ve been level. However, the centre-back failed to get proper contact on the delivery and the chance went begging.
Central to the turnaround in the visitors’ performance was their captain. Chalobah bossed the second half from box to box and with fifteen minutes to go put his mark on the scoresheet with a thoroughly deserved equaliser.
Fine work by Piazon presented Mitrovic with a shot which was deflected away for a corner, but Clifford’s delivery was met by the Chelsea number six with a thundering header from a perfectly timed run to bring the scores level at 2-2.
It set the stage for a grandstand finish, and one which Chelsea had the opportunity to provide. With three minutes left on the clock, Piazon’s run was brought to an abrupt halt inside the box by Josh Prichard, and the referee correctly pointed to the penalty spot.
Lalkovic took responsibility but missed the target, sending his spot kick high over the crossbar.
It meant a mere share of the spoils instead of taking all three points, something their second half performance would have thoroughly warranted.
Fulham were good value for their part after dominating the opening 45 minutes but Chelsea’s improvement after the restart was tangible and arguably their best performance of the season.
The reserves are next in action on December 5th, when they take on Aston Villa at Cobham.
Team: Blackman, Kane, Ince, Magnay (Deen-Conteh 75), B. Gordon, Chalobah (c), B. Clifford, Saville, Lalkovic, Piazon, Mitrovic
Subs not Used: Taylor, Prosenik, Feruz, Aké
Goals: Lalkovic ’66, Chalobah ’77