Chelsea hold a commanding advantage in the FA Youth Cup Final after an emphatic 4-0 first leg win on Friday night at Stamford Bridge.
A second-half brace from Islam Feruz followed first-half strikes from Nathaniel Chalobah and Islam Feruz as the Blues put themselves in the strongest of positions ahead of the return fixture next month.
Blackburn had their moments and chances but were unable to capitalise upon them and face a huge task if they are to somehow turn this tie on its head.
Chelsea, who were unchanged from both games against Manchester United in the previous round, have been notoriously slow starters in this competition in recent seasons and it was the case once again early on as Rovers seized the early initiative. Bigger and stronger in every area of the pitch, they sought to exert their influence and dominate the early going.
Despite goalkeeper Matthew Urwin being forced into the first save of the game to deny Todd Kane, they played much of the first quarter of an hour in Chelsea’s half, pressing the back four and limiting the distribution from the back. They were aided by a slick surface causing players to be less sure of their footing and touch, resulting in mistakes and loss of possession.
Nathan Aké slipped at a crucial moment and allowed the visitors to create a chance, but Jamal Blackman was on hand to deny Osamen Osawe with a brave stop. From the following corner, big captain Ryan Edwards knocked the ball down to Osawe, but he was once again unable to find the target.
Edwards has proven himself to be an excellent weapon from dead ball situations this season and he did so again, going close with another towering header which was cleared off the line and then away from Curtis Haley before he could prod it goalwards.
After camping in Chelsea’s box, the visitors will have felt especially aggrieved at finding themselves 1-0 down moments later. A slick Chelsea move saw Amin Affane cut back on the right wing to deliver a cross on his left foot which found the unmarked Chalobah.
The captain nodded into the far corner to score his sixth career Youth Cup goal.
He chanced his arm from long range moments later but Urwin was able to make a routine save to deny him adding to his impressive tally. Still, the momentum had shifted and it was the hosts making things happen.
Affane saw an effort cleared from the goalmouth when pouncing on a loose ball but whilst the youth team have struggled to capitalise on spells of dominance this season, they took full advantage here and doubled their lead in some style with half an hour played.
Kane made a typical surging run down the right and hooked the ball back into the box where it was gathered by Lucas Piazon. The Brazilian settled the ball before laying it off to Baker, who smashed a first-time effort high into the top corner from the edge of the box.
It may have been harsh on Blackburn but Chelsea had worked hard to get a footing in the game and were the stronger competitors. Feruz may have given up in the region of a foot in height to both centre-backs but was working twice as hard and repeatedly won posssession back with his dogged efforts.
Rovers felt they might have had a goal just before the break when Edwards’ header went close but the officials ruled that Blackman had clawed the ball to safety before it crossed the line.
They started the second half as strongly as they did the first, keen to make inroads into their deficit, but Blackman was in inspired form and once again denied Osawe any sight of goal.
Adi Viveash made an early but familiar switch in introducing Alex Kiwomya for Affane, perhaps keen to add a more direct threat on the break by utilising the schoolboy’s exceptional pace and fresh legs.
Almost immediately that approach was taken and was nearly rewarded; the substitute had an appeal for a penalty fall on deaf ears as a corner was awarded. From Baker’s delivery, John Swift arrived unmarked but was unable to steer his header on target.
They didn’t have to wait very long for another opportunity to come along, and when it did, they executed it with some style. Swift, Baker and Chalobah exchanged passes before the England Under-19 international delivered an inch-perfect through ball to Feruz, who finished it first time with an impudent flick under Urwin.
It encapsulated the fluidity within the Chelsea midfield as the nominally defensive Chalobah had advanced into a more creative position whilst Swift held a deeper position with Baker linking the two together. In a match where the Blues gave up much in the way of size, it was the creativity and balance in their midfield which was ultimately decisive.
The goal really looked like it broke Blackburn spirits and a fourth duly arrived ten minutes later. Piazon carried the charge with another run inside from the left, and once again it was Feruz who ran across his man and nudged the ball home despite being pulled to the ground.
The Scottish forward, who recently received a maiden Under-21 call-up, was withdrawn to a standing ovation and replaced by another schoolboy in Reece Mitchell for the final fifteen minutes or so.
Rovers left-back Will Beesley was one of very few in yellow who looked lively and keen to play on, and whilst his probing play occasionally threatened, it ended with a long range effort which sailed wide of Blackman’s goal.
Some sloppy play late in the game by Chelsea threatened to allow Blackburn a consolation but Blackman wasn’t to be beaten, denying Osawe twice more in the final minutes, whilst Kane looked to add his name to the scoresheet at the other end but saw his shot well saved by Urwin.
The scoreline mirrored that of the 2009-10 Semi Final when then manager Dermot Drummy led his charges into the Final after a 5-0 aggregate victory, and Chelsea now head to Ewood Park in 19 days with one hand on the trophy.
Chelsea: Blackman, Kane, Davey, Aké, Nditi, Chalobah (c), Swift, Baker, Affane (Kiwomya 52), Lucas Piazon, Feruz (Mitchell 75)
Subs not Used: Beeney, Gordon, Nkumu
Blackburn Rovers: Urwin, Wylie (Lenihan 60), Beesley, Edwards (c), Hands (Cotton 60), O’Connell, Hanley, Fernandez, O’Sullivan, Osawe, Haley (Payne 81)
Subs not Used: Dilo, Daly
Goals: Chalobah ’19, Baker ’27, Feruz ’58, ’68
Booked: Piazon, Feruz (CFC)