Chelsea put themselves into a strong position in the FA Youth Cup with a 2-1 first leg victory away to Manchester United on Friday night.
Goals from Amin Affane and Islam Feruz secured a vital victory for the Blues in the opening game of the Semi Final, and they will host their opponents at Stamford Bridge in some ten days time or so with an advantage to play with.
As expected, Adi Viveash was able to name the same starting eleven which played against Reading at the weekend, meaning one change from the Quarter Final win at Nottingham Forest.
Alex Davey replaced Reece Mitchell, a move which allowed captain. Nathaniel Chalobah to move into midfield. The hosts, meanwhile, were without midfield playmakers Adnan Januzaj and Joe Rothwell, whilst forward Sam Byrne was only fit enough to take a place on the bench.
With fifteen of the starting twenty-two players first year scholars or younger, there was an air of keen enthusiasm and exuberance about the tie but it was Chelsea who found their stride first, quickly settling in possession and playing tenaciously without it.
There was an early chance for Dutch centre-back Nathan Aké when he found a loose ball in the box but his finish was high over goalkeeper Jonny Sutherland’s crossbar. It was quickly followed by Lewis Baker’s ambitious long range effort skidding wide after the midfielder did well to win the ball in United territory.
Islam Feruz threatened to embarrass home captain Luke McCullough when he robbed him of the ball following a hefty clearance from Davey but the defender recovered well to make a crucial challenge.
However, the Blues took a deserved lead moments later when Feruz and Piazon combined to good effect before the Brazilian laid the chance on a plate for Affane, who beat Sutherland confidently from just inside the box.
With the apparent security of a lead, Chelsea allowed themselves to relax from the breakneck pace at which they were playing, and it allowed Man Utd the opportunity to finally get a grip on the game from their perspective.
Jack Barmby was booked for a crude challenge on Adam Nditi but the Tanzanian duly had his name taken minutes later for a cynical pull on Barmby after losing the ball in sloppy fashion.
From the resulting free kick, defender Tyler Blackett hit a ferocious effort which thundered back off Jamal Blackman’s crossbar. The Blues stopper had not been drawn into action all half but could do little but watch as the effort flew goalwards.
Lucas Piazon had a fine chance to double the advantage and Feruz fashioned himself a good opening but neither were able to make good on their chances, and it was the hosts who finished the half stronger, although Barmby’s flighted effort over the crossbar was as close as they came to asking questions of Blackman.
As expected, United started the second half looking to assert themselves on the game and played much higher up the pitch, with midfielder Jack Rudge clearly moving into Chelsea territory whenever possible.
They were still struggling to make things happen and it was Baker who threatened at the other end with a volley which was headed goalwards before it took a deflection to safety.
However, as the game ticked closer to the hour mark the hosts took control of affairs and began to look like scoring. After Blackman fumbled Van Velzen’s effort for a corner, the Blues failed to clear and an unfortunate incident where Davey headed against Baker presented James Wilson with the chance to make it 1-1, one he duly took.
It looked like the goal that would swing the game, and perhaps the tie fully in United’s favour but less than ten minutes later Chelsea restored their lead with Feruz’s fourth goal in the competition this season.
Chalobah broke up play in midfield and led the charge with Feruz on a swift counter attack. The Scottish forward’s attempted through ball was blocked but he was able to recover possession and advance before burying a long-range effort into the bottom corner.
Perhaps it just took a goal to produce renewed confidence and energy but Chelsea looked a different team following the goal, and both Feruz and substitute Alex Kiwomya had good chances to extend the advantage in the five minutes following the strike.
However, McCullough and Sutherland did enough each time to keep the deficit at one.
In response, manager Paul McGuinness threw on forward Byrne and midfielder Luke Hendrie in a bid to bolster his team’s attacking options, and with more to deal with Viveash duly tweaked his midfield to ask Swift to partner Chalobah in a two-man base, leaving Baker at the top.
They carved out a chance which eventually found Van Velzen but the Dutchman missed the target. However, the better option may have been to finds Mats Daehli, who had time and space to shoot but received the pass far too late.
Nortei Nortey replaced Nditi five minutes from time with the left-back close to receiving a second yellow card, and the new man was quickly into the action, breaking into the United box to win a corner.
It was a rare foray forward in the final moments though, and the Blues were able to hold on for a 2-1 win and a strong lead to take back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg, which will be played in the last week of March (but the exact date is yet to be confirmed).
Man Utd: Sutherland, Grimshaw, McCullough (c), Ioannou, Blackett, Rudge (Hendrie 73), Pearson (Byrne 73), Van Velzen, Barmby (Ekangamene 90), Daehli, Wilson
Subs not Used: Jacob, Dalley
Chelsea: Blackman, Kane, Davey, Aké, Nditi (Nortey 86), Chalobah (c), Swift, Baker, Affane (Kiwomya 60), Piazon, Feruz (Howard 90)
Subs not Used: Beeney, Conroy
Goals: Wilson (MUFC); Affane, Feruz (CFC)
Booked: Barmby (MUFC); Nditi (CFC)