A contribution piece from Jack Ison
With seemingly no plans for my Friday evening, the prospect of staying in at home wasn’t exactly an enlightening prospect for me. Refreshing twitter for the 100th time in an hour, Chelsea’s official twitter informed me that tickets were still available for the development squad’s fixture that very evening.
Desperate for something to do, I grabbed two tickets at a bargain price of £5 each and dragged a friend along into London. Generally, with a lot of games falling at Cobham, I haven’t had a chance to see the development boys in action as the games are simply too difficult to get to, so it was exciting to get the chance to watch the boys properly. With both Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi due to feature, I imagine this was one of the most highly anticipated U23 games in some time.
Arriving at Stamford Bridge shortly before kick-off, it was apparent we weren’t the only ones who had taken the opportunity to go watch the guys last minute. The ticket office had its work cut out printing tickets for people who had bought them in the hours before.
The club had opened up both the East and Shed lower for the occasion and within five minutes of the game kicking off, it was fantastic to see both had almost been filled. With both coming back from large layoffs, it was great to see both Callum and Reece in the starting eleven, but also disappointing to see Billy Gilmour watching from the stands. Having picked up the Premier League 2 Player of the Month earlier in the day, injury had forced him to miss the occasion.
Naturally, the performance everyone most excited for was Callum’s. With Reece having only returned to training a few days before, this experience for him was about finding his feet again and building some match fitness.
Hudson-Odoi was simply outstanding. Despite being just eighteen himself, it looked like a man playing against boys and his fully healed achilles didn’t seem to have slowed him at all, which is fantastic to see. Drifting in off the left throughout the game, he tore the Brighton players to pieces and the match-up was simply unfair. A good ball from Reece found Callum who then played the ball to Henry Lawrence.
What happened next was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the match as he expertly curled the ball around the keeper from a tight angle, prompting gasps and applause from the crowd as it nestled into the back of the net. A half of little action had without a doubt, belonged to a full England International seeing his first action in just under five months.
Reece James was pulled off at halftime, as many would have expected after only just returning from injury. Marcel Lewis doubled the lead from close range in the second half and victory was assured.
Brighton did pull one goal back late into injury time from a good header but it was too late to have any effect on the game, although a small scuffle was found in the Chelsea goalmouth as Nicolas Tié attempted to shield the ball from Brighton attackers who were desperate to salvage a point. With this win, Chelsea now hold a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League 2 table, over London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Whilst there were good performances across the pitch, the star of the show was Hudson-Odoi. With the likes of Valenica and Liverpool being too soon, don’t be surprised if the Carabao Cup third round match against Grimsby Town presents a fantastic opportunity to integrate both him and James back into the first-team squad.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience getting down to see the development boys run around for the evening. For just £5, I would recommend anyone heading down to future games, I know I certainly will and suspect the majority of the 3,613 others who attended will.