Chelsea’s love affair with the FA Youth Cup continues unabated as another cracker of a tie saw them best Newcastle United 3-2 in a tense Quarter Final affair fraught with controversy, confrontation and drama.
The Blues went ahead through Dominic Solanke’s eighteenth goal of the season but they found themselves behind at the break – and for the first time in the competition this season – as Olivier Kemen’s dubious equaliser was allowed to stand and Adam Armstrong grabbed an unlikely lead. However, the visiting youngsters drew on reserves of spirit and resolve exhibited so often on this stage in recent years and second half strikes from Alex Kiwomya and Jeremie Boga turned the game around into a deserved victory and a place in the last four.
Adi Viveash named his strongest Youth Cup eleven so far, although he was deprived of the services of defender Fankaty Dabo in the hours before kickoff through illness. Isak Ssewankambo deputised after scoring for the Under-21s on Saturday and joined Dion Conroy, Andreas Christensen and Ola Aina in the back four, with Mitchell Beeney in goal as usual.
Captain Ruben Loftus-Cheek anchored the midfield alongside Charlie Colkett, with Boga afforded the creative number ten role ahead of them and in between wingers Kiwomya and Isaiah Brown. Solanke led the line in attack looking to extend his run of scoring in every round of the competition.
The first ten minutes were littered with fouls as the match began in stop-start fashion, and the theme would continue for most of the first half. Newcastle’s tenacious pressing approach combined with the aggression provided by the occasion in front of a decent crowd saw them commit a few early fouls, although Chelsea were able to at least control the midfield area as Loftus-Cheek got stuck in and used his considerable frame to dominate and carry the ball into pockets of space.
Boga too proved himself ever capable of turning nothing into something as he wriggled free of black and white attention before exchanging passes with Brown and almost finding his team-mate once again with a cross cut back to the edge of the area. Newcastle duly broke and threatened through the prolific Armstrong in behind, but Beeney was alert to the danger of the situation and came off his line quickly to smother the loose ball.
The game’s first moment of real quality was provided by Colkett, who showed strength to win the ball back from Greg Olley before delivering an inch-perfect through ball to Brown, who got his shot away but was unable to best Freddie Woodman in the Newcastle goal.
Woodman had no chance with Chelsea’s next opportunity though as the Blues took the lead with a counter attack of clinical incisiveness. Brown displayed terrific work rate and commitment to win the ball in his own penalty area and rode three tackles before breaking clear and releasing Solanke, who timed his run in behind the home defence to perfection. He reached the edge of the box before slamming his shot high into the roof of the net.
The lead should then have been doubled when Loftus-Cheek hit the post from Colkett’s corner. The skipper had a free shot in front of goal no more than six yards out but rather sliced his effort and watched it come back off the frame of the goal, and whilst it appeared that Woodman may have then turned the ball over his own line, the officials remained unmoved and play continued.
Those same officials would be front and centre once again minutes later as Newcastle equalised in controversial fashion. Rolando Aarons’ quick feet won a free kick on the left wing, and from Olley’s dangerous in-swinging delivery, Kemen nudged the ball past Beeney and into the back of the net. The Chelsea goalkeeper was incensed at the decision to allow the goal to stand, claiming that the French midfielder had handled the ball, and replays conclusively backed that up.
It was a moment that clearly got to the young Chelsea players, and they struggled to remain composed in the face of frustration. Newcastle defender Jamie Sterry was booked for a rough challenge on Brown, the sort of which only served to distract the Blues further, and ultimately their uncertain spell resulted in Newcastle going ahead shortly before the break.
A momentary lapse in concentration from Loftus-Cheek saw him present Armstrong with the ball in front of goal, and the England Under-17 forward showed why he has been on the first team bench for his club this season with a rasping low effort into Beeney’s bottom left-hand corner for 2-1.
The half time break was arguably a blessing for the visitors, who were able to calm down, regain their composure and take on words of encouragement from their manager. Within ten minutes of the restart, they had restored parity when Solanke turned from scorer to provider by releasing Kiwomya with a fine pass in behind, and Kiwomya did the rest by rolling the ball past Woodman and in off the near post.
Kemen then continued to ride his luck as he only received a yellow card for an off the ball incident where he slapped Colkett in the face. The situation was defused despite a reaction by both the aggrieved Colkett and defender Conroy, but five minutes later they ensured firm justice was done by restoring the lead, and in some style too.
Boga collected the ball with his back to goal and has he has done so many times, turned and left two opponents trailing in his wake. He settled himself before thrashing an unstoppable effort past Woodman from well outside the box, scoring at St James’s Park for the second time this season after netting for the Under-21s way back in the autumn.
Substitutions followed as the attrition of the evening began to take its toll on weary legs, and the impressive Brown – only just back from injury – was withdrawn fifteen minutes from time with Reece Mitchell his replacement. Boga then twice created chances for Solanke but the young forward was unable to take either; his first effort blocked and his second, a header from a corner, over the crossbar.
By way of response, Newcastle won the ball back in Chelsea territory and worked an opening which saw substitute Jonathyn Quinn – scorer of three goals during their run to the last eight – find space as the free man at the far post, but his shot was into a comfortable area for Beeney and it was turned away for a corner.
Jordan Houghton came on for the final five minutes to provide a more naturally defensive-minded approach than the tireless Colkett had as Newcastle poured numbers forward in one last effort to send the match to extra time. As they did, they left themselves exposed at the back and as the fourth official indicated four minutes of additional time were to be played, both Boga and Mitchell had glorious opportunities to seal the win but their shots were blocked, and then the Frenchman smashed one high over the bar after Mitchell had danced his way through.
They wouldn’t need a fourth though, as despite one final effort by Kemen, they held on and booked their place in a fifth consecutive Youth Cup Semi Final. They will face London rivals Arsenal over two legs in the coming weeks, with the first leg to be hosted at Stamford Bridge, and the return date at the Emirates Stadium.
Newcastle United: Woodman, Sterry, McKinnon, Satka, Gibson (Drennan), Gilliead (c), Kemen, Olley (Heardman), Aarons, Smith (Quinn), Armstrong
Subs not used: Pearson, Roberts
Chelsea: Beeney, Ssewankambo, Conroy, Christensen, Aina, Colkett (Houghton), Kiwomya, Loftus-Cheek (c), Solanke, Boga, Brown (Mitchell)
Subs not used: Collins, Dasilva, Musonda