Chelsea’s set up a FA Youth Cup Quarter Final tie with Watford after overcoming Barnsley in a tough match at Stamford Bridge.
Second half goals from Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah cancelled out Danny Rose’s first-minute opener in a tie which mirrored the previous round, when the Blues beat Arsenal.
Coach Dermot Drummy made just one change in personnel from that match, bringing in schoolboy Adam Nditi to replace Ben Sampayo. A tactical shuffling of the pack saw Todd Kane move to right-back, and Bobby Devyne switch to the right flank to allow Nditi to play on his natural side.
Whereas the Gunners took a second minute lead, Barnsley went a goal up after just eighteen seconds. A move which appeared to be planned from kickoff saw Reuben Noble-Lazarus tear away down the left wing and delivery a brilliant cross which was met by an equally impressive finish courtesy of Danny Rose.
Finding themselves fighting an early deficit once again, it was unsurprising to see that the Blues were not stunned, and instead began to look to try and play their football. Immediate gains were to be found down the left wing, where Nditi was involved, but the ball didn’t bounce kindly for the Tanzanian on one or two occasions.
Goalkeeper Jamal Blackman was kept on his toes by a rasping free kick from long range which everyone else had assumed would be hung up into the box, but it was a half largely played in Barnsley territory.
Unfortunately, it was also a frustrating one for the hosts. Struggling to find room in midfield, there was a stark lack of penetration into the final third, with Barnsley doing very well to shut down play out wide and funnel it back into the middle, where they were able to defend in numbers.
Nonetheless, chances arrived, and perhaps none better than the one which came to captain Daniel Pappoe. Meeting a delivery from the left, he rose above everybody and headed wide of the target, much to the dismay of the many supporters who had thought it was in.
Set pieces were looking like Chelsea’s best chance of scoring, as the opposition were a rareity in being smaller than their immediate opponent in almost every department.
Chalobah almost met another fine Billy Clifford delivery on time, but saw Milan Lalkovic take the ball from him at the last moment with an effort of his own. The Tykes duly broke away and Rose dragged a shot wide of the target.
The goalscorer would go on to have an effort ruled out for offside before the break, but not before Josh McEachran had dragged a shot wide of the post, and Nditi had slipped at the crucial moment and seen his close-range effort fly high over the crossbar.
It had been a frustrating half for Drummy on the bench, as he had seen his side make a number of simple mistakes and, perhaps more importantly, not play anywhere near as well as they can do.
So whilst no changes in personnel greeted the resumpton of action in the second half, the Blues emerged with a renewed vigour and attacking approach, one which was converted into the game’s second goal within moments.
Good play down the right saw Clifford play McEachran in inside the area, and the England Under-21 midfielder sent a low shot skidding into the near post, beating Lukas Lidakevicius and restoring parity.
Todd Kane became the first of two Chelsea players booked on the night for a harmless looking shoulder barge in his own defensive corner, but it was the other end – in front of the Matthew Harding Stand – where everything was now happening.
Pappoe was proving hard to handle from corners and his knockdown found Nditi at the back post, but despite a good connection on the shot, the goalbound effort was turned away on the line.
As the pressure ramped up, Aziz Deen-Conteh drove dangerously across the face of goal and Clifford flashed an effort inches wide from long range, before Devyne curled wide on his left foot, losing his footing in the process.
McEachran saw his name taken following some handbags with Chris Moyo (by a referee who had a poor game all round), but it was a moment indicative of the way the game would go. Barnsley perhaps sensed that their grip on the stalemate was waning and they began to lose focus, whilst Chelsea poured forward with wave after wave of attack.
Chelsea’s first substitution saw Anton Rodgers replace Nditi, and it signalled a change in shape. The Irish youth international would sit at the base of a diamond midfield, with McEachran at the attacking point, and full backs Deen-Conteh and Kane encouraged to get further forward.
The latter immediately sent a low shot bouncing wide of the target from way out on the right, whilst Pappoe and then Lalkovic went close from a free kick situation delivered from deep.
Then, with just three minutes remaining, the winner arrived. McEachran’s free kick from a corner-like position made its way towards the far post, where Chalobah stooped to conquer, turning the ball home via a combination of head and back.
The Yorkshiremen rallied in stoppage time, attempting to cause chaos with a series of long throws, but only managed one effort on goal, which was blocked. Five minutes of stoppage time drama ended in success and progression for Chelsea, who continue in defence of their trophy.
A strong team performance with belief and desire to improve was highlighted by outstanding showings from Pappoe and Clifford, but, as has been the theme throughout this season’s cup campaign, the battling spirit and patience in the belief that their ability will see them through saw the Blues home once again.
It may yet take them even further.
Team: Blackman, Kane, Pappoe (c), Chalobah, Deen-Conteh, Saville, B.Clifford, McEachran, Devyne (Affane 89), Nditi (Rodgers 75), Lalkovic
Goals: McEachran ’47, Chalobah ’87
Booked: Kane, McEachran
You can follow Dan on Twitter @DD_Photo