The daily email from the club provided a timely reminder that there was the FA Youth Cup game tonight at The Valley. Having foregone the delights of Stockport (it’s bad enough for any place to be an offshoot of a larger town, but being next to Manchester?) duty called, despite the absence now of a train from Blackheath to Charlton when you need one. It was after all the last chance to enjoy a trip to The Valley this side of Christmas.
The young Addicks lined up with Binks in goal, Cousins and Morris as the full backs, Mambo and Jenkinson in central defence, with a midfield of Bellamy, Warren, Pell and Carter and Tuna and Perkins up front.
The early exchanges set the pattern for much of the game, with Chelsea comfortable in possession and moving the ball around, with Charlton initially at least it seemed placing a priority on containment. We had to work hard to get the ball and tended to lose it quickly, the exception being good work down the right by Bellamy, often assisted by Cousins. But aside from the odd dangerous cross we weren’t unduly stretched – save for one of those moments when Mambo took one for the team, getting in the way of a fierce shot on a cold night which made everyone in the crowd wince. We had the first real chance, courtesy of the Chelsea keeper. Obviously uncertainty at the back when dealing with high crosses is something they teach them from a young age, as he spilt a cross only for the shot to be blocked.
Chelsea’s delivery from set pieces always looked threatening, however, and on the half-hour the deadlock was broken. A wicked ball in saw Binks caught in no-man’s land and one of their defenders got the flick to send it into the net. If the keeper took a little of the blame for that one he was to be faultless for the remainder of the match, making some decent saves and one outstanding one to turn a shot round the post. By contrast their keeper was keeping our hopes alive, almost making a hash of a backpass to let us in shortly after and then in the period just before the break dropping another cross from a corner, resulting in two blocked efforts on goal. And just on half-time we created the chance to draw level, with Tuna played through. However, this time the keeper was out smartly to smother the shot and what was to prove to be our best chance until late on went begging.
Not squaring the game before half-time by one means or another was to prove pivotal as if anything Chelsea took more of a grip in the second half. Their two wide men created chances and their abundance of possession made it difficult for us to apply any pressure. Azeez came on for us for the second half, replacing Carter, with Tuna dropping deeper, while not long into the second half Morris was to pick up a knock and was replaced by Anderson, with Cousins switching to left-back. Aside from a curling Pell shot we seldom threatened, while Chelsea could have extended their lead as an attempt to catch them offside went awry and their centre-forward found himself with only Binks to beat, only to put it wide. And just when it seemed we might gear up for a barnstorming attempt to take the game to extra time Chelsea did score again. A quickly taken short corner was whipped in and the ball broke to said centre-forward, who this time scored.
That seemed to be it, but after Jordan had come on for Warren and the game moved into stoppage time we did manage to pull one back. A corner broke to the edge of the box and Cousins got onto the loose ball, kept the shot controlled and with a deflection it found its way into the net. Five minutes earlier and things could have been different, but there was almost no time left and, as on Saturday, the final whistle blew to leave the home team frustrated.
Certainly no shame in the defeat against a very well organised young Chelsea side, one which managed to drain the life out of our lads for much of the game, especially with a capable defence (when the keeper wasn’t involved). For me special mention in dispatches would go to Cousins (beaten once or twice, but looked the part at left and right-back and scored the goal), Binks (exemplary aside from their first goal and kept us in the game), Jenkinson (who led by example) and Bellamy (who was instrumental in most of our best moments in the first half). Like the first X1, that’s the annoying and distracting cups out of the way now, nothing to divert attention away from the real stuff, resuming Saturday.