Chelsea brought their 2010-11 academy campaign to a close on Thursday lunchtime with a 2-1 defeat away to an impressive Charlton Athletic team.
First half goals from Adebayo Azeez and Bradley Goldberg were enough to secure three points for the Addicks, who move above the Blues in the table, but a strong second half showing from the visitors threatened to take a share of the spoils.
The closing weeks of the season has seen Dermot Drummy use a cluster of schoolboys ahead of next season, and today was no different as he handed debuts to England Under-16 internationals George Cole and Fanky Dabo, the latter coming off the bench to score.
Cole started on the left of a front three with fellow Under-15 Reece Mitchell on the side, with joint leading scorer Bobby Devyne in the middle.
Ben Sampayo captained the team on his last outing before his contract expires, whilst there were also places for Archange Nkumu, Amin Affane and Mesca.
The game got underway in bright sunshine but clouded over early for Chelsea when they lost centre back Alex Davey to a foot injury inside the opening ten minutes.
He was replaced by Jordan Houghton, another Under-15, as the average age of the team became even younger.
An early penalty appeal for a foul on Cole was followed by the debutant curling wide from the edge of the box, but it would prove to be rare action at that end of the pitch as Charlton quickly seized control of affairs.
Playing with a diamond midfield, they were able to use Goldberg as the focal point behind two bigger forwards in Azeez and Joe Pigott, with good support down the flanks from Morgan Fox and Semi Ajayi.
Goldberg went close when he was just unable to adjust his body to turn Sampayo’s clearance on target, before forcing Jamal Blackman into his first save with a more conventional effort.
The opening goal arrived after barely quarter of an hour, and exposed Chelsea’s less experienced left side of defence. Ajayi powered forward past the much smaller Affane and squared to Azeez, who swept home unmarked.
Blackman would be in for a busy half, first denying Pigott from close range before doing the same once more to Goldberg.
The away team were not playing anywhere near the football they’re capable of, and lacked composure and communication for much of the first half.
It came as no surprise when Charlton were able to double their lead before the half hour mark, and it was almost a carbon copy of their first.
Ajayi once again enjoyed time and space on the right, dribbled into the area and cut the ball back for Goldberg, who made no mistake with his third effort of the match.
Chelsea were reduced to speculative efforts from distance, like Affane’s in response, but it soared high over George Howard’s crossbar.
As Howard watched on, presumably enjoying the weather, Blackman was putting on a goalkeeping clinic, flying superbly to tip Goldberg’s effort away for a corner before plucking Bradley Jordan’s shot out of the top corner.
Jordan would go on to have a storming end to the half, drawing another save before firing wide from outside the box.
Much of Chelsea’s woes had stemmed from not being able to control the game in the midfield. With no recognised defensive-minded player in there, neither Anjur Osmanovic nor Mesca were showing the necessary discipline to fill space, and with Lewis Baker playing a more advanced role, it meant Charlton were first to every loose ball.
Drummy made a point of this close to half time and then again during the interval, when he also introduced Dabo for Cole.
The newcomer regularly plays at full back for the club’s junior teams but lined up in attack on this occasion, and with immediate dividends.
Blackman was drawn into early second half action to deny schoolboy Harry Lennon, but slowly Chelsea began to come into the game and create openings for themselves.
Baker’s free kick looked to be heading towards the top corner before it flicked away off the wall, but he followed it with a sublime ball in behind for Devyne, who made Howard work for the first time all match.
Charlton looked comfortable enough defending but as they conceded the territorial advantage, Chelsea pushed numbers into attack and capitalised midway through the second period.
Good play by Affane to regain possession freed Osmanovic, and he found Baker. The initial through ball was blocked but Dabo was first to gather from loose possession, finding his feet to slot home left footed from the penalty spot.
As Charlton introduced fresh legs, it was all Chelsea, and they had a huge shout for a penalty fall on deaf ears when Mitchell was up-ended in the box.
Azeez kept attentions focused at the other end when he rattled the outside of the post with a well-struck effort from wide on the edge of the box, but with minutes remaining in their season, Chelsea went for broke.
Devyne, who had been leading the charge, created a shooting chance for Houghton, but much like Goldberg at the start of the match, he struggled to shape his body towards the goal and couldn’t hit the target.
Osmanovic went off injured with a back complaint, allowing Nortei Nortey on for the closing stages, and he added aggression and drive from left back in continuing his return from injury.
Affane sent a free kick wide of the target in stoppage time – which there was plenty of after three late injuries – and from a series of corners even deeper into time added on, Blackman’s presence in the opposition area caused confusion.
Mitchell had another very valid shout for a spot kick turned down, but Chelsea were unable to find the goal, with Charlton holding on for a win they just about deserved.
It was a real game of two halves and encapsulated much of what is great about academy football, and was played in the right spirit throughout.
Chelsea improved greatly in the second half and showed that had they played that way throughout, they may well have taken something back to Cobham with them, but it wasn’t to be.
Special words for the performances of Devyne and Sampayo, who led with maturity and experience, whilst Nkumu dealt with Azeez well and Baker commanded the ball in midfield. Charlton, though, were worthy winners.
Team: Blackman, Sampayo (c), Davey (Houghton 10), Nkumu, Affane, Osmanovic (Nortey 85), Mesca, Baker, Mitchell, Cole (Dabo 45), Devyne
Subs not Used: Beeney