A four-goal hammering by Manchester City on Thursday night means Chelsea’s quest for Reserve League glory goes down to the final game of the season. Strikes from John Guidetti, Abdi Ibrahim, Harry Bunn and James Poole ensured a comprehensive win for City on a night where Chelsea were far from their best.
Steve Holland was able to keep the majority of his squad together from last week’s victory over Aston Villa, losing only Nathaniel Chalobah to international duty. Tomas Kalas deputised for him in the Blues’ only change.
City’s ‘Elite Development Squad’ included a smattering of fringe first team squad members but was notable for the inclusion of Shay Given in goal, the Irishman returning from a spell on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.
In rainy conditions on a less than ideal pitch, it took barely five minutes for the hosts to take the lead. Impressive inter-play on the edge of the box saw Swedish forward John Guidetti find space in behind the Chelsea back four and finish smartly.
Chelsea were convinced that the City top scorer was offside, but no flag was forthcoming and they faced an uphill struggle from then on. Against a big, physical side, they began to feel the force they were up against.
In the opening quarter of an hour Kalas, Adam Phillip, and Carl Magnay were all treated for head injuries, the latter of the trio requiring stitches to close a bloody wound.
Sporting a bandage, the defender came back to deny Guidetti a good chance to extend his team’s lead, but the home side were in the ascendancy and with Chelsea’s midfield seemingly absent, they were able to make further gains.
After Magnay headed straight at Given and Phillip had dragged a free kick wide, Chelsea turned possession over in the centre of the park, allowing Abdul Razak to break forward.
Ibrahim took the ball on in the left side of the area and his shot wrong-footed Jan Sebek in goal before trickling over the line. The Czech stopper had been moving to his right but the ball perhaps took a deflection on its way home.
Magnay then took a flailing elbow from Guidetti to the mouth and expressed his frustration to the referee as more blood emanated from him. A combination of some rough play by City and the two goal deficit saw Holland’s side lose their heads briefly.
Conor Clifford was booked for a tackle in which he won the ball but showed his studs, before handbags ensued with Guidetti involved in some playacting after a tackle by Woods.
The goalscorer was booked, and was swiftly followed by Phillip, who earned a caution for something of an agricultural challenge on Reece Wabara.
Shortly before the break Sebek was replaced by Jamal Blackman after complaints of feeling unwell. The young replacement entered the fray for only his second competitive outing at this level.
He had little to do before retiring to the changing rooms at the break, with both sides needing the fifteen minutes to cool off raised tempers.
Man City introduced Bunn for the second half but it was Chelsea who made the best of the early going, and saw claims of what appeared to be a certain penalty fall on deaf ears when Phillip fell over under a challenge by Wabara.
Unfortunately, though, it was light relief for the visiting defenders, who were back on their toes when the lively Bunn began to threaten. A well-struck shot was matched by Blackman at the near post, before Poole’s acrobatic follow-up sliced just wide.
Shaleum Logan followed that with a cross from the right which grazed the crossbar on its way towards the far post.
If Chelsea were going to get back into the game, Gokhan Tore would be the likely talisman. The Turkish B international has been in superb form and it was his footwork which exposed Logan shortly before the hour.
With the right-back out of position, Lalkovic received the ball inside and lined up a chance for Woods, which was taken away from him by the relentless Razak. From the following corner, Kalas got up well but headed wide.
Indeed, it quickly became Chelsea’s best spell of the game, and despite Kane being let down twice in quick succession by the pitch, chances were coming. A fine pass from Woods landed perfectly for Phillip to strike, but the ambitious first time volley was off target.
Despite coming into the game a lot more, the Blues had been unable to really test Given, and it took a speculative 35-yard by Magnay to extend the veteran stopper, who dealt with the effort comfortably.
At the other end Blackman was brave to stand up to an effort by Andrea Mancini, before Razak blazed the rebound wide of the target. It was merely delaying the inevitable though, and after a home substitution, the third duly arrived.
City flooded forward with men over as Chelsea toiled to get back, and a lovely reverse ball by Poole gave Bunn all the time in the world to slot past Blackman, which he did in emphatic style.
Three became four minutes later when Poole was rewarded for his unselfish play with a goal of his own. A quick one-two with Guidetti released the midfielder, who showed a deft touch in lifting the ball over Blackman.
Phillip was presented with a fine chance to net a consolation but he was met by a top save by Given, who came out well to narrow the angle and smother the ball.
Quick thinking by McEachran saw Woods find the back of the net, but the referee chalked the goal off for taking the free kick without permission, and issued a fourth yellow card of the night to boot.
Mitrovic and Saville completed Chelsea’s quota of substitutions inside the final ten minutes but both teams were content to let the clock run itself out, the game long since over as a contest.
They were beaten by a bigger and better opponent and despite some good individual performances – both centre backs put in a good effort – the team rarely clicked as a unit and appeared disjointed throughout, particularly in midfield.
All eyes turn to Stamford Bridge on Monday, where a win over Wolves will ensure top spot in the Reserve League South.
Team: Sebek (Blackman 40), Kane, Kalas, Magnay (c), Bertrand, Woods, C.Clifford, McEachran, Phillip (Saville 86), Tore, Lalkovic (Mitrovic 80)
Subs Not Used: Affane, Devyne
Booked: Clifford, Phillip, McEachran