Jesper Gronkjaer made his second-half comeback at Watford tonight in a game which saw Jody Morris enjoy 90 minutes and Carlton Cole hit another hat-trick and score his 30th goal of the season.
Gronkjaer showed occasional bursts of pace and put over several crosses on the run as he worked his way back to fitness. There appeared no reaction to the operation on his knee carried out early last October.
Morris worked hard without ever finding peak form, and picked up a second-half booking for a late challenge.
Joe Keenan, who recently made his first team debut, looked more assured than ever, pulling a lot of strings in midfield.
Chelsea twice took the lead in the first 25 minutes, looking capable of scoring every time the team went forward.
The first goal came after five minutes when Cole strode down the right-wing outside a defender and drove in a cross which Keenan chested back for Sebastian Kneissl to finish from 12 yards. It was his third goal in ten days.
Keenan then went close twice, first with a volley and then a drive from the edge of the area which was well saved by Baardsen, before Watford equalised when Valerio Di Cesare let a cross drift over his head and Dominic Foley volleyed home.
Goalkeeper Lennie Pidgeley was impressive on crosses when Watford attacked, and although bottom of the FA Premier Reserve League, the `ex-pats’ side were themselves dangerous in attack. Ex-pats, of course, because they are run by former Blue Ray Lewington, while the club is managed by Gianluca Vialli, with Ray Wilkins coach, Kevin Hitchcock goalkeeping coach, Terry Byrne assistant manager and John Kelly head masseur.
Cole restored the lead with his 28th goal of the season when he headed in unchallenged after Robert Huth had headed back Scott Cousins’ inswinging corner.
Cole made it 3-1 from the penalty spot – a confident shot into the corner – in stoppage time at the end of the first-half when his pass had found Keenan who cleverly turned into the area and was brought down as he prepared to shoot by Nick Williams. The referee needlessly sent Williams off to make the game less of a contest.
Chelsea switched from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 to accommodate Gronkjaer in the second-half. He mostly played up the right-wing.
Pidgeley produced one outstanding, agile save midway through the second-half, but then blotted his copybook by dropping a simple ball from which Watford pulled a goal back.
Cole completed his fourth hat-trick of the season and scored his 30th goal when he volleyed in unchallenged another Cousins corner to make it 4-2. It really was like taking candy from a baby!
Soon after he forced Baardsen into a magnificent stop when put through by Slatter, and then had a right foot blast just wide.
It was only the reserves’ second game since Christmas, and finished very satisfactorily for the Blues.