To the casual observer it might have become predictable a long time ago. The FA Youth Cup starts in August of every season, invites more than 700 clubs from across the lands to enter, and in the end Chelsea reach the Final.
Yet to discredit the work done by each crop with every passing year would be doing them a disservice. Jody Morris’ latest vintage will take their place in a record seventh consecutive final later this month against Blackpool or Arsenal after comfortably beating Birmingham City 4-0 in the second leg of a tie that was already over when the Blues triumped 3-0 at Andrew’s last week.
The 7-0 aggregate scoreline barely flatted Chelsea either; had they really stretched their legs and gotten into the groove, they could have broken their own record for the biggest aggregate win in competition history. Instead, they hit the woodwork three times, drew numerous saves from Birmingham goalkeeper Adam Siviter, and had to settle for equalling the seven-goal margin of victory they established against Tottenham Hotspur at this time last season.
Dan Davies’ match gallery is available HERE and is, as always, worth your time.
Six first years, one schoolboy and four second-years took to the Tuesday night lights under Stamford Bridge in a heavily-changed team from six days earlier, but the quality in depth available to Morris and the standards held up across the group as a collective meant there was never likely to be an upset here. Callum Hudson-Odoi stole the show with a sensational first-half brace, whilst Charlie Brown struck his 20th of the season in between, and Tariq Uwakwe added gloss to proceedings in the second half with his third goal in as many games.
Brown and Tino Anjorin each struck the crossbar in a lively first twenty minutes; Brown’s first-time effort clipping the top of the goal after good work by George McEachran, before Anjorin’s gloriously improvised flick careened away after appearing destined for the top corner all the way. It had been a matter of when rather than if since kickoff and, after Hudson-Odoi, Uwakwe and Anjorin again had all failed to find the target, the star of the show produced his first moment of the night.
Having been felled on the edge of the area, Hudson-Odoi picked himself up and, with huge self-assurance, stroked an unstoppable free kick into the top corner leaving Adam Siviter with no chance. Replays showed the ball curling sumptuously into the back corner of the net, inch perfect in every regard. It extended the 17 year-old’s run of scoring in every appearance during this year’s run – having missed the Round Five tie at Tottenham – and he wasn’t done yet.
Brown was next to take centre stage though, benefitting from strong midfield play by Anjorin, before cutting inside and lashing home for 2-0 and his 20th goal of an impressive second season at the club. The former Ipswich Town youngster has often played the role of dutiful backup to Daishawn Redan and Martell Taylor-Crossdale in the big games this season, but he took his opportunity with both hands here.
The coup de grace was provided by Hudson-Odoi just before half time. In his own inimitable style, he turned towards goal from 40 yards out, breezed by two or three in white who couldn’t get close to him, and whipped in a superb low finish from the edge of the area that left Siviter rooted to his spot. In this, his 12th Youth Cup outing overall, he’d recorded his eleventh goal, and would go on to claim a ninth assist for Uwakwe later on.
Video game numbers though they may be, this was still a professional and hard-working performance from 1 to 11 in blue. Karlo Žiger was a spectator for long spells but was alert to deny Ryan Burke, McEachran dazzled his way through before being crowded out, and this was all during the first half. The second half was a more measured affair by comparison, but chances came and went nonetheless.
Clinton Mola’s header rebounded off the angle of post and crossbar as Chelsea were frustrated by the woodwork once again, whilst Brown was close to pouncing on Siviter’s slippery hands after spilling Hudson-Odoi’s effort, only for the City stopper to redeem himself with a brave claim at the second time of asking. He was called upon again to prevent an own goal as Redmond tried to stop McEachran bursting through, but there was little he could to do top Uwakwe sweeping home unmarked at the far post for 4-0 after Hudson-Odoi had beaten his man down the left.
The hosts’ talismanic number eleven was denied a story-book hat-trick when Siviter kicked wide at the end of another flowing piece of attacking football, and substitute Taylor-Crossdale had a header disallowed for offside whilst also dragging wide from a good position late on. Birmingham had clearly worked very hard to reach the final four of the competition for the first time in a generation, but the gulf in class was as apparent as it ever has been at this level, and in this second leg it was against a Chelsea team that could have added Redan, Dujon Sterling, Marc Guehi, Ethan Ampadu, Juan Castillo, Marcin Bułka, Jamie Cumming, or many more.
The full strength of their squad will be required for the final against either Blackpool or Arsenal, who drew 2-2 at Bloomfield Road in the first leg, and will reconvene at the Emirates Stadium on April 16th. The Blues will host the first leg of this year’s showpiece occasion, having had the second leg on home soil for the past five years, and will head to either Lancashire or North London for the decider, hoping to emulate the famous Manchester United Busby Babes in winning five FA Youth Cup titles in a row.
Chelsea: Žiger, Lamptey, Lavinier, James ©, Mola, McEachran, Uwakwe (Gallagher 71), Gilmour, Brown (Taylor-Crossdale 64), Anjorin (Panzo 59), Hudson-Odoi
Subs not Used: Guehi, Cumming
Goals: Hudson-Odoi ’31, ’41, Brown ’38, Uwakwe ‘63
Birmingham City: Siviter, Dawes, Burke (Clarke 69), Stirk, Redmond, Bajrami ©, Baker, Boyd-Munce (Forrest 45), Andrews, Concannon (Hurst 58), Okoro
Subs not Used: Landers, McLean