Not the result for the kids that we were hoping for; and not the one that seemed on the cards at half-time as we’d more than tweaked Chelsea’s noses and deservedly led 2-0. Always a dangerous scoreline, especially when you have a break to ponder on the fact you really just want the game to be over. And whereas in the first half we’d been matching them for passing and movement if not always composure (and never strength), and outdoing them on chances, the second half saw us progressively pegged back and hanging on, with the attacking threat all but evaporating. When they got one back we wanted the game over, when they equalised we’d have settled for penalties at the end of 90 minutes; and when in extra-time they scored their third we were really hoping for a miracle that didn’t come.
Although Chelsea started brightly and knocked the ball around at ease, we grew into the game and began to hustle them into mistakes, with Poyet pulling the strings, Palmer going past players with ease, Derry causing problems down the right, Sho-Silva offering a muscular outlet, and the defence after some uncertain moments keeping their pacey but erratic number nine under wraps. As the balance shifted, we took the lead. A high ball in from the left should have been dealt with by their central defenders or keeper, but with the latter sticking to his line Derry was the only one to attack the ball, heading home from close range.
The goal raised our game and sewed seeds of doubt in their mind and we perhaps should have been awarded a second as a double challenge for the ball by Sho-Silva against their keeper involved no foul that I saw, only for one to be spotted by the ref (who did tend to act like a benevolent grandfather to Chelsea throughout the game, which contained its fair share of robust challenges from both sides) before he put the loose ball in the net. Chelsea had their best chance of the half when a guy was played through, but his effort went wide of the post and instead we stretched our lead as this time Derry turned provider, putting in a cross that was converted by Muldoon.
We might have notched a potentially decisive third with a goalmouth scramble, and then as their keeper pulled off a truly outstanding save to keep out a downward header. But at the break we were looking good, even though Chelsea had given fair indication that if they put their minds to it they could still get back in the game.
The second half began much like the first, with them dominating possession. But this time around, with us tending to sit back more the forward threat was much less apparent, especially with Sho-Silva getting little change out of a centre-back who might have ambitions to be better than John Terry but is already a good deal bigger than five-foot-three. Just as we seemed to be weathering the storm they scored, a sort of sneaky near post effort after it had appeared that the danger had been contained.
After this, it looked like a case of whether we could hold on, with our balls forward getting longer and with Sho-Silva being substituted the physical presence up front disappearing. The disappointment was the nature of their equaliser. We were moving forward but a misplaced pass caught us on the wrong foot and, with space available, Chelsea played it forward quickly to a guy running in on goal who buried it in the bottom corner.
Further changes followed, with Palmer and Edwards being replaced. But now on level terms Chelsea were prepared to take their time and keep us penned in our own half, with the efforts expended not surprisingly taking their toll. At the end of 90 minutes not many in the crowd were sure what would happen next (straight to penalties or a replay perhaps?). Turned out to be extra time and there was no question which team was in the ascendency. The first period was negotiated with only a few scares, even though the defending had an increasingly last-ditch appearance to it, but in the second they scored what proved to be the winner. Again, the nature of it was the disappointment. Their centre-back sprayed a long ball wide left and their guy took it on in his stride, going past the defenders to find himself with only the keeper to beat and he curled it into the bottom corner.
That proved to be it. The final minutes saw some hopeful balls forward, but it was apparent to all that the chance of a notable scalp had gone. No matter, there was no shortage of positives. I’ve not seen this crop play before and there’s plenty to admire. Poyet shows a maturity beyond his years and keeps things ticking over nicely, centre-half Gomez looked assured (after some early misplaced passes), and both full-backs (Holmes-Dennis and Edwards) got forward well. Sho-Silva clearly has potential, as do others, but for me the star of the show was Palmer. He tired in the second half, but before then showed a range of abilities that bodes well, including one second-half run through their defence which ended with a curled effort just over the bar.
All’s well that ends well as they say and for us it didn’t end well. But what went before looks pretty good, especially on a bloody cold night.