Northampton Town 0 (0)
Chelsea Under-21 2 (0)
Attendance – 1,527
It is not every day that Northampton Town get to host the European Champions, even if it is only their under-21 side. Yet Aidy Boothroyd’s men were given a good work out by the Chelsea development squad at Sixfields on Saturday, with the visitors running out victors by two goals.
Cobblers boss Boothroyd spoke before the game about how he was expecting more of a possession-based, technical and tactical battle compared to their opening matches against Corby Town and Cogenhoe United, and that certainly proved to be the case. Dermot Drummy’s young side also showed that they are capable of mixing it physically as well though, but the Blues under-21 chief may have been slightly disappointed to see three of his players yellow carded.
In the end, it was two goals from second half substitute Alex Kiwomya – nephew of former Arsenal and Ipswich striker Chris – that settled it in Chelsea’s favour. Northampton created plenty of chances though, particularly towards the end, and may well have earned a share of the spoils had they taken some of them.
Boothroyd’s team selection gave a hint of what perhaps he sees, at the moment at least, as his preferred starting 11. The Cobblers lined up with a three-man midfield, with summer signing Clive Platt playing as the target man up front and fellow new boys Alex Nicholls and Ishmel Demontagnac out wide.
Ben Harding may well also feature in Northampton’s midfield three in place of Chris Hackett when fully fit, and his appearance amongst the substitutes will have provided a welcome boost after a long spell out due to injury.
Yet there was no sign of Michael Hoganson in the team. The ex-Newcastle United winger had been on trial with the club and was subsequently offered a one-year contract, but instead was 61 miles away featuring for Derby County as a trialist in their friendly at Burton Albion.
There was a familiar face in the Chelsea side, with goalkeeper Sam Walker returning to Sixfields for the first time since his loan spell with the club last season. He was given a warm reception by the home fans, but was soon being playfully jeered by them after shanking a couple of early clearances out for thrown-ins.
That had helped give Town a spell of early possession in the Chelsea half, and left winger Demontagnac in particular was peppering the box with crosses - no doubt aimed for the head of Platt - at every opportunity he got though.
The Blues youngsters were not ruffled by this though, and displayed plenty of their technical proficiency by expertly switching the play on the attack along with some quick passing moves.
Chances proved few and far between during the opening 20 minutes, although Adam Phillip did go close for the visitors, blazing over from inside the box after picking up the ball on the right from a ranging cross-field pass by Lewis Baker.
At the other end, Platt showed a glimpse of his aerial presence when he met a Chris Hackett free kick with a strong header in the 25th minute. However, Walker got down well to hold onto the ball.
Cobblers trialist Roberts was called into action four minutes later, doing well to parry a shot whilst one-on-one with Phillip following a neat one-two between him and Chelsea team mate Patrick Bamford.
The Blues George Saville also managed to do the near-on impossible and get himself booked in a friendly. The tough-tackling midfielder had only been warned moments early and another robust tackle on Hackett saw referee Andy Woolmer brandish the yellow card.
That foul almost led to a goal for the home side in the 38th minute when Platt headed a penetrating free kick back across the box into the path of Nicholls, only for Walker to save his attempt on goal.
Saville was not the only one who irked Mr. Woolmer, with Aziz Deen-Conteh having his name taken six minutes before the interval for a somewhat reckless challenge on Hackett.
Nicholls and Bamford both had chances to break the deadlock just before the interval, but failed to do so meaning that the sides entered half time still all square. The match started to open up a bit more when play resumed, although the best opportunities for both teams in the second half came from set pieces.
Phillip put a free kick from the edge of the Northampton box just over the bar after Bamford had been fouled early on, while John Johnson glanced a header wide for the hosts after connecting with a free kick into the box ten minutes later.
The Cobblers had two good chances around the hour mark, with influential midfield man Luke Guttridge shooting straight at Walker from 12 yards first. Then came perhaps the best opening of the game so far. Hackett beat the offside trap and raced clear to pick up a long pass, only for Walker to get the slightest of touches on the former Oxford United man’s placed, low shot while through on goal.
But Northampton were undone on the counter-attack in the 63rd minute. Chelsea had shown their ability to break quickly earlier in the game, and although Town had managed to get plenty of men back, they were unable to stop Billy Clifford shaping and shooting. Roberts managed to parry the shot, but substitute Kiwomya reacted quickest to the loose ball and tapped home.
Ben Tozer wasted a gilt-edged chance to equalised in the 76th minute, failing to connect cleanly with a pinpoint cross from the left by substitute Harding. Almost immediately, Chelsea then doubled their advantage. Once again, it came from a Clifford shot that Roberts could not hold and this time Kiwomya mugged Joe Widdowson before he could clear, slotting into the empty net.
Nicholls was then denied in the 80th minute after cutting inform the left and shooting. His effort was parried by Walker, with impressive centre half Nathan Ake then heading the ball off the line and over the bar for a corner. Ake was also involved at the other end, forcing Roberts into a good one-handed save to tip his header over.
The Cobblers continued to press in the closing stages, with Hackett putting a free kick just wide, substitute Akinfenwa heading over from close range and Walker being kept honest with various shots. They could not get on the score sheet though, and now focus switches to Tuesday night’s home friendly against Derby.
Northampton Town line-up (4-3-3) – Roberts; Johnson, Langmead (captain), Charles, Widdowson; Hackett, Tozer, Guttridge; Demontagnac (Harding 63), Platt (Akinfenwa 63), Nicholls
Subs Not Used – Snedker, Turnbull, Wilson, Robinson, Hornby, Mattock, Chambers
Referee – Mr. Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire)