Chelsea ended their 2011-12 reserve campaign with a whimper as they went down 4-1 to Manchester United at a rain-soaked Cobham on Monday afternoon.
Goals from Ryan Tunnicliffe, Larnell Cole, Will Keane and Richie De Laet secured an emphatic and deserved win for the Reds, who will play in the National Final against Aston Villa to determine who will de-throne Chelsea as champions.
The Blues looked a shadow of the side that went all the way last season and few did themselves justice. Patrick Bamford’s fourth goal in as many games was a meagre consolation at the end of a forgettable ninety minutes.
It was a strong starting line-up from Dermot Drummy, featuring three strikers in Bamford, Romelu Lukaku and Adam Phillip, whilst Cliffords Billy and Conor were joined in midfield by captain Nathaniel Chalobah, fresh from youth cup duty last Friday.
The visitors included many recognisable faces from last season’s FA Youth Cup clash and were in the ascendancy from the off, taking the lead inside ten minuets. Zeki Fryers initially benefitted from a lucky bounce to ride Todd Kane’s tackle and then when his cut-back seemingly went awry, Tunnicliffe was on hand to beat stand-in goalkeeper James Russell from the edge of the box.
Chelsea struggled to retain possession, displaying erratic passing and a lack of movement off the ball, and looked all at sea at the back as United probed seeking a bigger advantage. Nathan Aké’s last-ditch tackle to deny Davide Petrucci a clear sight of goal prevented a two-goal lead before the quarter hour mark had been reached.
Two wayward Lukaku efforts aside, it took twenty minutes before Sam Johnstone was even half worried, as Phillip did well to work a yard of space but dragged his effort the wrong side of the post.
Will Keane saw a header cleared off the line by Aziz Deen-Conteh before Tom Thorpe wasted an excellent opening by volleying straight at Russell as United stepped up a gear into complete domination.
A second deserved goal came when Jesse Lingard threaded a ball through to Larnell Cole, and despite hints of offside the winger tucked past Russell with ease.
Johnstone saved from Phillip as Chelsea mustered a first strike on target minutes before the break but their half time deficit was three as foward Keane got his goal in stoppage time, latching onto a weak header by Kane intended for Russell before rounding the stranded ‘keeper and beating Aké on the line.
If that was bad, the start to the second half was downright ridiculous as De Laet made it four within five minutes of the game’s resumption. He intercepted a poor pass by Conor Clifford on the halfway line and breezed past four blue shirts over a forty-yard distance before slotting into the bottom corner.
Drummy did not look amused at his midfield and quickly replaced both Cliffords with John Swift and Lewis Baker, stars of Friday’s excellent win over Blackburn. They joined Lucas Piazon, who had replaced Phillip at half time.
With six of the youth cup regulars now on the pitch, Chelsea began to move the ball about quicker and looked a more respectable outfit despite the reduction in age. Swift immediately got involved and drew a save from Johnstone moments after Piazon had seen an effort somehow cleared off the line by Thorpe.
United had clearly taken their foot off the gas with four goals to their name but showed that they could go through the gears at a moment’s notice and threaten at will. Keane’s close range header hit the crossbar and substitute Gyliano van Velzen drew a sharp save from Russell.
Bamford produced something to cheer about in the final minutes with a lovely low effort from the edge of the box to beat Johnstone. It was his fifth goal in a Chelsea shirt and 38th of the season after such an impressive campaign at Nottingham Forest.
It signalled a momentary burst in energy from the hosts, who went close through Swift, Lukaku and Chalobah, but the final word was once again United’s as Thorpe’s header hit the crossbar before the final whistle sounded.
A visibly disappointed and frustrated Drummy pulled few punches in his post-match assessment:
“They weren’t performing, simple as that. They were giving the ball away, they were sloppy, they were second to every ball, there was more urgency from the opposition. We’re playing Man Utd, and if it needs me to be on the sideline to shout to someone to put tackles in and run then we’ve got a problem.
[The younger boys] have been doing very well, what they did do is they moved the ball quicker, they didn’t get caught on the ball and we actually went forward a lot more, but the game was done then to be fair. It’s a disappointing afternoon.
To be fair [to Bamford], he’s played on the right when he’s a number nine, and I’ve played Lukaku number nine instead. Patrick, I think, could probably work a bit more off the ball; there’s another side to the game, we have to dig in, and I can’t say I’m really satisfied with anyone to be honest.”
The reserve team manager went on to explain what lies ahead in the short-term before the group disperses for the summer:
“The plan is to review the boys and plan for next season. They’ve got a tournament that we agreed to in Hong Kong, but the dynamics, you know, of the whole season…the boys moved out of the first team building, they’ve got to pick themselves up, they’ve got to understand that if you want to progress you’ve got to work hard and be prepared to take criticism. I think this year has been a massive learning curve for the reserve team group and where it sits at the club.”
Chelsea: Russell, Kane, Ince, Aké, Deen-Conteh, C.Clifford (Swift 52), B.Clifford (Baker 60), Chalobah (c), Phillip (Lucas Piazon 45), Bamford, Lukaku
Subs not Used: Mitchell Beeney, Nditi
Goals: Bamford 86