Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
It might be a cliche, and it might not be clear which one applies just yet, but for Josh McEachran, you can certainly make the case after Wednesday night’s Carling Cup action.
Whilst it’s important not to get carried away, it’s equally proper to give credit where credit is due, and for 35 minutes under the Stamford Bridge floodlights, a 17 year-old playmaker began to flourish before 41,500 eyes.
Newcastle became the first team to win a Cup tie at the home of the English champions for thirty outings and ended the Blues’ Carling Cup campaign prematurely after a seven-goal classic which was won in stoppage time.
Having come back from a two-goal deficit whilst playing with ten men, home hearts were broken in stoppage time when Shola Ameobi scored his second of the evening to send the visiting fans home with dreams of long overdue success.
Both managers took the opportunity to rotate their squads, with Carlo Ancelotti finding room for four of the club’s younger players in the starting eleven.
Patrick van Aanholt, Jeffrey Bruma, Gael Kakuta and Daniel Sturridge all came into the team as only Paulo Ferreira and Ramires retained their places from Sunday’s win over Blackpool.
The substitutes bench included five more academy faces in Jan Sebek, Billy Clifford, Jacob Mellis, McEachran, and 15 year-old Nathaniel Chalobah.
Elsewhere there were starts for Ross Turnbull, Yuri Zhirkov and Yossi Benayoun, whilst Newcastle included Sol Campbell for his Toon debut.
Young left sided player Shane Ferguson earned a spot after impressing for the reserves against Chelsea’s second string last week, and young forwards Haris Vuckic and Nile Ranger were also featured.
Things began superbly for the hosts as they took the lead with just six minutes on the clock. It was a goal made and finished by the reserve team as Kakuta pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area before cutting it back to van Aanholt, who struck a right-footed effort which beat good friend Tim Krul.
The Dutch Under-21 international had spent part of last season loan against Newcastle, but was ecstatic in celebration at scoring on his full debut.
It settled the game down for Ancelotti’s side, but Newcastle’s approach was tenacious and summed up by a tackle on Kakuta which sent the Frenchman flying through the air and landing hard. Ryan Taylor was duly booked for the indiscretion.
Chelsea looked fairly comfortable but there was always an air of uncertainty as long balls were hit up to big forwards Ranger and Ameobi, who took it upon themselves to play wide and dominate the smaller full backs.
It was this which contributed to their equaliser midway through the first half, as a cross from Peter Lovenkrands evaded John Terry’s head before being turned in by Ranger at the far post.
The England Under-19 forward had escaped the attentions of goalscorer van Aanholt for a split second, but it was enough to find the half yard of space necessary to beat the sprawling Turnbull.
Buoyed by their newly-restored parity, it took a mere four minutes for Chris Hughton’s side to take the lead. This time it was Bruma who would learn the ramifications of a mistake at the top level, as he hauled down Ameobi on the edge of the area.
As he contemplated his booking, he could only watch as Ryan Taylor crashed the set piece beyond Turnbull’s outstretched left hand.
Critics may note that the ball went to the goalkeeper’s side, but from such close range with such a fiercely struck ball, Petr Cech would have struggled to keep it out.
With the game turned on its head, Chelsea looked truly shaken, and it took a gallop of pace from Bruma to match a last ditch tackle on Ameobi to deny a third goal before the break.
The chance had emerged after some sloppy play by Terry on the half way line, and the captain would make way at the break, having come through his planned 45 minutes unscathed physically.
He was replaced by Alex, whilst Salomon Kalou came on for Kakuta, who had struggled to get back into the game after being hit hard by Taylor.
Unfortunately, a series of hammer blows were about to strike Chelsea and ultimately do for their cup ambitions.
Barely five minutes of the second half had gone when more sloppy play in the middle of the park led to Ameobi collecting the ball, driving at Alex and curling a low effort past Turnbull from outside the area.
This time the former Middlesbrough man could be faulted, as despite covering the post, he appeared to dive over the ball and miss it as it trickled into the back of the net.
Seeking to now resolve a two-goal deficit, Salomon Kalou went haring after a through ball, but pulled up with a serious-looking hamstring injury. His departure led to the early but significant arrival of McEachran.
Things got worse before they got better though, as Benayoun suffered a similar fate to Kalou, and with all three substitutes used, Chelsea would have to play out the remaining half an hour with just ten men.
In such circumstances, individuals step up and take the weight of the team on their back. With the usual suspects not on duty, it fell to Nicolas Anelka to lead the way, and he did so superbly, but was ably assisted by a player fourteen years his junior.
McEachran came on and lined up alongside Ramires in what was a 4-2-3 formation, but with the Brazilian tiring, he was required to cover the work of two or three players.
He thrived upon the pressure, taking control of the ball and displaying patience, guile and confidence which belied his years. A fleetness of foot and energy in abundance, it was perhaps the least likely player in blue leading the charge.
And what a charge it was.
Alex struck the post from the edge of the area after reacting quickly to Bruma’s free kick which hit the ball, but with twenty minutes left, the game was back on.
A fine flowing move down the left wing saw van Aanholt beat his man for pace as he approached the edge of the area. Keeping his composure, he cut the ball back and Anelka opened his body beautifully to place the ball into the far corner of the net.
Now being played at a breakneck pace, a truly superb finale was on the cards, but it began to take its toll on those involved. Van Aanholt had to take on fluids more than once in the late stages, whilst Ferreira and Ramires were noticeably flagging.
Anelka kept going though, and was rewarded for his efforts fives minutes from time. The ball found its way to Alex – by now playing as an auxiliary striker – inside the penalty area, and under contact from sub Cheik Tioté, the Brazilian went down.
Phil Dowd pointed to the spot, and the Frenchman was the epitome of cool as he rolled the ball into the bottom corner, Krul not even diving.
Roared on by an awoken home following, the comeback was almost completed in spectacular, yet unlikely, fashion. More approach play down the left saw a cross delivered to the far post, where the ball was struck on the full volley by Ferreira.
With just two goals in six years, he watched agonisingly as his stupendous effort clipped the outside of the post.
As the fourth official prepared to announce six minutes of injury time, there was a sting in the tail. Jonás’ corner found the head of Ameobi, and he silenced the Bridge, bar the delirious travelling masses.
A late effort from McEachran rolled agonisingly wide of the post after some fine trickery to eke out the chance, but the game was up and Newcastle progressed to the fourth round.
It might have been a disappointment on the scoresheet, but the evening had so many positives.
Van Aanholt scored a goal and made another in his first start for the club, and showed fine character to bounce back from a lapse in concentration which cost a goal at the other end. Bruma looked at least as good as Terry and Alex, making a series of impressive tackles.
When it truly mattered, Alex and Anelka stepped up, as they needed to. But they were joined, and overshadowed, by a teenage star. The trio deserved a win, but on this night, it was not to be.
Chelsea: Ross Turnbull, Paulo Ferreira, John Terry (c) (Alex ’45), Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt, Ramires, Yossi Benayoun, Yuriy Zhirkov, Gael Kakuta (Salomon Kalou 45 (Josh McEachran 56) ), Daniel Sturridge, Nicolas Anelka
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