Chelsea have often made things look much easier than they actually are in their dominant FA Youth Cup stretch over the past five years, but rarely have they done what they did to Fulham on a bitterly cold Tuesday evening on the banks of the River Thames.
Frustrated despite their first half dominance at Craven Cottage, Jody Morris’ young Blues put their West London neighbours to the sword in the second, registering an emphatic 6-0 final score that saw them book their place in a record ninth consecutive Semi Final in the competition. The scary thing is that they didn’t even need to approach their best form to do so.
Dan Davies braved the freezing conditions pitchside to bring you the best of the action, so make sure you check out his match gallery HERE.
Friday’s league meeting between the two sides meant little as both Morris and his Fulham counterpart Colin Omogbehin rang the changes to field their strongest possible starting elevens. For Chelsea, that meant no Ethan Ampadu, Juan Castillo or Jonathan Panzo, who all missed out through injury, and subsequently midfielder Clinton Mola made his Youth Cup debut at full-back. Tariq Lamptey was preferred to Dujon Sterling at full-back, and Callum Hudson-Odoi returned to the fold having missed the Fifth Round triumph at Tottenham Hotspur due to first team commitments.
Chelsea looked to be under clear instructions to test home goalkeeper Luca Ashby-Hammond from distance early on, as Reece James, Billy Gilmour and Conor Gallagher all looked to take advantage of the frosty, snow-covered surface, but none of them could do very much to extend the young stopper. The hosts were largely content to defend with ten men behind the ball, and take their chances on the break, something that very nearly worked in their favour when Tyrese Francois pounced on Gallagher’s mistake only to dither over his shot and waste the moment entirely.
The Australian had a very similar moment later in the first half, but this time found Marc Guehi in his way, and Chelsea began to take over entirely. Camped in Fulham territory for long spells, they frequently found space for Lamptey down the right, but lacked a cutting edge with both Hudson-Odoi and Tariq Uwakwe unable to make the breakthrough as they went in scoreless at the break.
Now attacking the cleaner Putney End of the pitch at the Cottage, everything changed in the second half. Hudson-Odoi needed just five minutes to make the difference count as his cross from the left was turned into his own goal by the unfortunate Jaydn Mundle-Smith, and the Blues never looked back. As they so often do, they capitalised on the first sign of weakness with the utmost ruthlessness, and Hudson-Odoi was the difference-maker again. He doubled the lead with a fine touch to take down a long pass, the quickness to take it past his man with ease, and the clinical left-footed finish fired low past Ashby-Hammond. It all looked far too easy.
Fulham could have replied instantly when a suspiciously offside-looking Reece York got away down the right, but team-mates Jayden Harris and Chris Kelly collided when trying to get on the end of his cross, leaving the latter with an injury that would eventually force him off. Moments after his departure, Fulham’s exit from the competition was confirmed by Chelsea’s third goal of the night. It was Hudson-Odoi once more down the left, beating his man and crossing inside the six yard box, where substitute Martell Taylor-Crossdale was on hand to turn home to get his evening started.
There would be plenty more from him in due course, but not before the solitary lapse in concentration from Chelsea. Guehi was caught in possession by Timmy Abraham – younger brother of Tammy – and although the Fulham forward was unable to make his chance count, he was eventually tripped by Jamie Cumming and a penalty was given. However, Fulham’s night was summed up when Nico Santos saw his spot kick saved by a redeemed Cumming, and that was that.
Sterling came off the bench to an immediate impact, scoring the goal of the night a quarter of an hour from time with a sensational pirouette and curling finish after being played in by Billy Gilmour, and Fulham had gone. Lamptey finally added some end product to his energetic performance with the perfect cross for Taylor-Crossdale to head home for 5-0, and he then won a penalty of his own when dancing his merry way past several beleaguered white shirts.
Taylor-Crossdale won his argument with regular taker Gallagher and tucked home to complete his second hat-trick of the season against Fulham, and not even his stoppage-time spat with Djed Spence could sour the evening. The Under-18s have scored nineteen goals without reply en route to the final four this season, and they’ll now face Birmingham City in a two-legged Semi Final next month. The second leg will be played at Stamford Bridge, and it would take a brave soul indeed to bet against another Chelsea final appearance on this evidence.
Fulham: Ashby-Hammond, Spence, Felix (Hilton 74), Harris, S.Sessegnon, Mundle-Smith, York (Martin 66), De Havilland, Santos, Francois, Kelly (Abraham 66)
Subs not Used: Scharzer, Carvalho
Booked: Felix, Hilton, Spence
Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey, James ©, Guehi, Mola, Gallagher, Uwakwe, Gilmour, Redan (Taylor-Crossdale 62), McEachran (Sterling 72), Hudson-Odoi
Subs not Used: Ziger, Lavinier, Brown
Goals: Mundle-Smith ’51 og, Hudson-Odoi ’56, Taylor-Crossdale ’68, ’78, ’87 (pen), Sterling ‘76
Booked: Mola, Cumming, Taylor-Crossdale