With just one win to their name after 21 games in Group B of Premier Academy League, damage limitation must have been on the minds of Milton Keynes Dons U18s as they visited Cobham on Saturday morning.
Chelsea aren’t exactly running away with the lead in Group A; being just above bottom-side Portsmouth in the 10 team league, with a fair bit of distance between them and the leading pack of Southampton, Fulham, Norwich and Crystal Palace.
However, a five game unbeaten run and sight of the weakest team in Premier Academy League would have filled Dermot Drummy’s side with confidence. The afternoon panned out as expected with Chelsea beating the Buckinghamshire side courtesy of three goals by Danny Stenning, Lewis Baker and Walter Figueira. The visitors got a goal for their afternoon’s hard work but that wasn’t enough.
There were three changes in the starting line up from last week – George Saville returning in defence to replace Alex Davey, Aldershot youngster Henrik Briemyr – who is currently on a work experience at Chelsea – came in midfield for Anton Rodgers, while Lewis Baker replaced Marko Mitrovic.
Bobby Devyne played as the lone front man supported on either side by Amin Affane and Guinea-Bissau born Portuguese Mesca (nicknamed Messi by his team-mates).
In the midfield, Briemyr and Baker lined up with Stenning, who played as an anchor-man. Experienced scholar Ben Sampayo captained the side playing at right-back, alongside Nkumu, Saville and Nditi in defence. Jamal Blackman, first choice goalkeeper for the Under-18s this season, kept his place in goal.
Chelsea started the game well and had a few half-chances but it was an even contest until midway through the first half. Devyne looked the livelier of the front three but on more than one occasion he didn’t receive enough support from the midfield.
Affane and Mesca were playing a bit too deep so the transition from defence to attack wasn’t quick enough. In the middle, Baker and Briemyr also found it a bit difficult to take control of the proceedings. Stenning, who was playing as the deepest of the midfielders then stepped up and started dictating play.
With Nditi getting more involved from the back and Affane playing a bit further forward, Chelsea began to ask some serious questions of the MK defence. The first goal arrived soon enough as the trio combined together to give Chelsea the lead.
Nditi carried the ball into MK’s half, passing it to Affane who skipped past a MK defender and slipped it into Stenning’s path. The Worthing born midfielder looked up and struck a sensational shot from 25 yards, which left the MK Keeper with no chance.
The goal spurred Chelsea to go searching for another as they were presented with a host of chances to double the lead. First, Nkumu intercepted the ball in midfield and ran with it before threading it into Affane’s path.
The Swede got to the left byline before squaring it towards Devyne who missed it. Chelsea then had a freekick and the goalscorer Stenning lined up. It resulted in a good shot but the Dons keeper was upto the task.
The goalkeeper then, rather clumsily, gave the ball directly to Affane from a goalkick, who played it to Devyne but the latter only managed to work the keeper. In between those Chelsea chances, MK had a chance of their own and their shot was only inches from going in.
However, the Dons were rewarded for their pluckiness just before the half-time as some shoddy defending from Chelsea presented Dons with a shooting opportunity just on the edge of the box. Dons obliged with a cracking effort which left Blackman stranded on his goal line.
Chelsea took off Saville and Devyne for the second half, with one eye on the reserve game against Wigan on Monday. In came a pair of schoolboys; Ali Gordon in defence and former Hampton & Richmond Borough youngster Walter Figueira in attack, a player whose afro can give anyone a run for their money.
Chelsea took control of the proceedings again and it wasn’t long before they re-took the lead. Breimyr took hold of the ball in the middle and released Figueira on the right. He got to the byline before cutting the ball back for Baker, who unleashed a drive into the top-corner.
Mesca, who wasn’t having a great afternoon, got into the midst of action as he wriggled his way through the MK defence before cutting it back for Figueira, who saw his shot saved. Chelsea had another chance after that as the ball fell nicely in the box for Stenning to have a go.
He missed the volley and then fell to the ground seething in pain. After receiving some medical attention on the pitch for a few minutes, he was driven off on golf-car. Chelsea suspect it’s a knee injury and we will know more about it later.
He was replaced by yet another schoolboy, defender Sam Bangura, which caused a reshuffle in the pack. Bangura moved to the right-back position, Sampayo slotted in the centre alongside Ali Gordon and Nkumu moved in midfield.
Stenning’s unfortunate removal from the pitch seemed to have given Baker’s game a lift as he took more responsibility and started dictating play. He combined well with Mesca in the second half as most of the Chelsea attacks were directed from the right-side.
It was the substitutes however who would combine together for the third Chelsea goal of the day. Bangura’s cross found Figueira unmarked in the middle and the latter made no mistake with his header.
Mesca had a good chance to put his name on the scoresheet towards the end as his shot went just wide. The referee called an end to the afternoon’s proceeding soon after and Chelsea came out as deserving winners.
It wasn’t a stand out performance in fairness, given the opposition. MK Dons were a resilient bunch and did well to thwart Chelsea’s attacks. However, some of the Chelsea youngsters certainly caught the eye. Stenning gave a good display of precise midfield play in the first-half while Baker, who is still not a scholar, showed why Chelsea took him from Luton at such a young age.
Mesca and Affane both had an on-off game. Drummy would hope they can bring more consistency into their play. Devyne, playing alone upfront, showed good work ethic and attitude. Chelsea travel to Hertfordshire next to play Watford, who are likely to provide a tougher challenge.
This week’s academy match report is kindly provided by Yasser