Another lengthy FA Youth Cup run beckons for Chelsea’s youngsters this season as the latest crop booked themselves into Round Five courtesy of a 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Aldershot’s Electrical Services Stadium.
Seventeen year-old forward Isaiah Brown got the Blues off and running with the opener after just two minutes; a goal which set the stage for a display of complete and utter dominance from the home team. Charly Musonda’s spectacular solo strike just before the break gave them breathing space and a Charlie Colkett penalty sealed the win early in the second half. Sheffield Wednesday got themselves a consolation ten minutes from time but Dominic Solanke rounded things in a game where the scoreline didn’t quite reflect the vast difference between the two sides.
Coach Adi Viveash made three changes from the team that beat Dartford in the previous round before Christmas, drafting in Ola Aina, Colkett and Brown for Kevin Wright (absent through injury), Jeremie Boga and Reece Mitchell.
Despite using the competition to rotate the squad and give opportunities to a number of highly deserving players it was nonetheless a very strong team, with Mitchell Beeney in goal and a back four of Aina, Jonathan Muleba, Dion Conroy and Fankaty Dabo, who filled in at left back. Colkett joined captain Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield, with Musonda flanked wide on the left and George Cole on the right. Solanke – who led all Chelsea players from Under-18 football upwards with fifteen goals this season before kickoff – played just off Brown in attack.
A theme of many a recent Youth Cup campaign has been how despite controlling the majority of play, goalscoring and end product had been inconsistent, almost to the point where it threatened to cost the team. Those doubts were largely assuaged before some fans had taken their seat in wintry Hampshire as Loftus-Cheek’s enterprising play on the right hand side produced a near-post cross which was swept home confidently by the in-form Brown.
It was the worst possible start for a Wednesday team that had clearly made the trip south to defend and soak up pressure whilst looking to hit their more illustrious opponents on the break. Despite trailing, they maintained the approach and packed as many as ten black shirts behind the ball, leaving just French striker Franck Betra to feed off scraps and clearances.
Viveash’s troops therefore enjoyed an obscene amount of possession and a healthy territorial advantage, but found it a frustrating task to break down their Yorkshire visitors. The heavy pitch mattered little as the ball was zipped about in eye-catching fashion but shots came and went from Colkett, Musonda and Loftus-Cheek from the edge of the area failed to work goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith.
In their only notable foray forward in the opening 45 minutes, Sheff Wed showed why a one-goal lead is never enough as centre-back Brad Beatson connected with a corner and thundered a header towards goal from six yards. Fortunately for Chelsea, it was straight at Beeney, but the episode sparked them into life and they looked to make their own lives easier before the break.
Musonda, Brown and Solanke combined well to allow Musonda to force a corner with a smart low shot; a corner from which Cole picked out Loftus-Cheek at the far post, but the header was saved well by Wildsmith at the near post. Solanke then went through on goal but was denied well by the onrushing stopper, and although Cole picked up the loose ball quickly, his cross eluded Musonda at the far post.
With the half time whistle looming, Musonda produced a moment of magic to grace any occasion. Sterling work by Solanke in the middle of the pitch allowed him to send the Belgian playmaker clear down the left, and from there it was all his own work. In a run reminiscent of Eden Hazard’s best traits, he chopped the ball back inside the full-back, shifted it past another and delivered the finish to match to make it 2-0.
Two should certainly have become three in the dawning moments of the second half as Brown contrived to miss a gaping target from close range following smart counter-attacking play first by Solanke and latterly Cole. He produced a much better effort minutes later after being teed up by the impressive Solanke, but Wildsmith was equal to the well-struck volley and beat the ball to safety.
Wednesday were more aggressive in their mentality but still unable to wrestle the ball away from Chelsea, and as they tired the chances began to pile up. Solanke was denied by the foot of the post after displaying tidy footwork in the box and then in the next attack Warren Clark tripped Brown in the box as the Blues were awarded a penalty. Colkett stepped up and send Wildsmith the wrong way to make it 3-0 and notch his first goal of the season.
That was the cue for the first change of the night as Brown was replaced by Kasey Palmer, another player who has had a standout season at Under-18 level. Loftus-Cheek really should have made it four when released into acres of space but failed to beat Wildsmith, whilst at the other end the closest Sheff Wed would come to scoring all night came after Conroy’s miscued backpass flew past Beeney and landed inches wide of the post.
Schoolboy Mukhtar Ali would receive a maiden Youth Cup run out and both he and Palmer had good chances to add to the scoreline result in embarrassing finishes, and in response Wednesday forward Charlie Dawes had one or two lively moments snuffed out by a combination of Aina and Muleba. Chelsea were unable to preserve the clean sheet though, as a defensive lapse from a set piece allowed Jack Stobbs to grab a consolation, but he did so with a deft controlled volley which looped over Beeney’s head and into the far corner, making it 3-1.
The last word, however, deservedly went to Chelsea. Palmer’s run down the right ended with a clinical cutback into the box, where Solanke was on hand to rifle home a goal his performance had deserved. The 4-1 win booked a place in the Fifth Round, where the Blues will next face either Oxford United or Cardiff City away in the Fifth Round. The fixture will take place before February 15th, and the opponent is set to be decided next Wednesday night.
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina, Muleba, Conroy, Dabo, Colkett (Ali), Loftus-Cheek (c), Cole (Kandi), Musonda, Solanke, Brown (Palmer)
Subs not Used: Collins, Dasilva