The trophy cabinet at Stamford Bridge will not be entirely empty this season - the reserve team, after collecting their Reserve South division medals last week, are now the national champions! Final score: Chelsea 1 - 1 Blackburn (5-4 on penalties).
Blackburn Rovers were our opponents, having beaten Manchester United in another playoff to be crowned Reserve North champions. Young Josh was left out of the team, having played against Newcastle yesterday. Schoolboy Nathaniel Chalobah took Josh's place in the starting eleven. The rest of the team was combination of youth and reserve regulars, so no big surprises in the starting eleven or on the bench.
Despite a bright start, some great passing and attacking play from the Blues, Blackburn took the lead in the first half and left Chelsea chasing an equalizer. The boys continued with attack after attack, but no final product.
Eighty-four minutes passed and surely Blackburn thought they were well on their way to raising the trophy, but the excellent Todd Kane had other ideas. The youth team's top scorer blasted one of his trademark long-range goals into the net for the 1-1. Brilliant. He's been one of my favorite young players this season and I had missed seeing this type goal from him. Great way to finish his impressive season.
Despite pushing on for the winner, the equalizer occurred a bit late in the match, and we were destined for penalties. No extra time; straight to pens. Oh dear. But the first team's usual curse didn't carry on to the second string: all five of our penalty takers (Clifford, Tore, Lalkovic, Phillip and Woods) scored, and the much maligned Ross Turnbull crucially saved a penalty to tip the advantage in Chelsea's direction. Michael Woods, a late sub who was out of the team for long periods of time due to injury and is moving on in the summer, stepped up to score the fifth penalty and seal the win.
Even the Big Boss turned up to watch the reserve team, and he brought along his old pal Sheva as well. I wish Borini had been there because he was such a big part of the first half of the reserve season, but he's busy helping bring Swansea up to the Premier League (all signs seem to point to him staying at Swansea after the season ends). It was great to see players like Michael Woods and Carl Magnay being able to celebrate winning the league after all the injury problems they've had, and it's great for the youth boys to be able to continue to experience success after last year's FA Cup win.
Yes, it's just the reserve league. And even the players have admitted that nobody is really too concerned with the results; the reserve team is about development. But we made it to a final, and it was important to try and win. We did. And the boys deserve to celebrate.
I have also been so traumatized by Chelsea and penalties that I was still sweating and hyperventilating over the shoot-out. Thanks a lot, first team.
Check it out, now that we can breathe easy about the outcome: