Chelsea advanced into the Fifth Round of the FA Youth Cup on Wednesday night after a hard-fought win away to Norwich City, prevailing on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes.
Four successful spot kicks saw Adrian Viveash’s troops home as Jamal Blackman saved one and watched another hit his crossbar in the dreaded shootout.
Viveash was able to welcome back Daniel Pappoe from injury and included the second-year in the centre of defence alongside Nathan Aké. His return was the only change from the line-up which faced Doncaster in the previous round, with Alex Kiwomya making way.
It meant Nathaniel Chalobah – released from first team squad commitments to be involved – was able to play in midfield, a position he’s been more effective in at youth and reserve level this season as it allows him to get firmly involved in the action.
The first half, however, was a largely forgettable affair overshadowed by a serious and unfortunate injury to Pappoe. Having played just 45 minutes since hurting his knee away to Liverpool in October, he wasn’t quite match fit.
In an ugly incident midway through the first period he landed awkwardly when attempting to block Jamar Loza’s goal-bound shot and whilst successful, he crumpled to the ground screaming in pain, holding his previously injured knee.
Loza had caused no end of problems for the Chelsea back line with his energetic running and his physical style, a hallmark of Norwich’s first half play. Keen to close down and with the energy to do so, they forced mistakes and sloppy passing, preventing the Blues from playing football.
Reece Hall-Johnson had Adam Nditi twisting and turning throughout but for all their endeavour, they rarely threatened Jamal Blackman in the Chelsea goal, with Loza’s aforementioned effort their sole shot on target.
The visitors, meanwhile, had their moments, largely inspired by the vision of Lewis Baker. Islam Feruz often came deep to hold the ball up, allowing Baker to receive the pass and play in any one of the runners from midfield.
Lucas Piazon was the first beneficiary of such play – albeit from a Nathan Aké pass – but was unable to beat Remi Matthews in the Norwich goal. Later in the half Baker’s cute reverse pass released Todd Kane, who was able to go around Matthews but momentarily lost control of the ball and allowed yellow shirts to swarm back and clear the ball.
The longer the half wore on, however, the more likely it looked like Chelsea would be the team to make the breakthrough.
They started the second half in lively fashion, continuing to look to dissect the Norwich defence with slide-rule passes in behind.
Feruz got the better of Harry Barker on one more aerial delivery by Nkumu but hesitated to strike the ball, allowing captain Taylor McKenzie to recover and get the block in.
Norwich had a brief spell during which Aké cleared up in amongst a Blues defence which was at sixes and sevens but they rarely threatened Blackman’s goal.
Alex Kiwomya replaced the quiet Amin Affane after an hour with the intention very much to utilise his pace to get on the end of the designed through balls, but he was a yard short of connecting with his first opportunity as Baker’s pass just ran through to goalkeeper Matthews.
Both teams took measures to stop the game becoming stretched in the late stages and looked content to take the game into extra time.
A stoppage time mistake by the otherwise impeccable Aké allowed Loza to bear down on goal but a stupendous recovery and tackle by Nkumu saw the chance go begging and force the game into an additional thirty minutes.
The first fifteen of those were a largely quiet, tense affair but in the final minute a Norwich free kick had Blackman in no man’s land, but despite being out of position he was still able to make a fine save to deny McKenzie’s far post header.
Norwich sensed they may be able to take the initiative and within a minute of the restart substitute Josh Murphy skinned Kane for space and had a clear sight of goal, but once again Blackman was equal to it.
Further threats were made from corners, whilst Chelsea used their final sub to bring Alastair Gordon on for Feruz, allowing Kane to move into an attacking role. Without Feruz, however, the visitors lacked an out ball and instead let the home team control the final moments of play.
Murphy showed presence of mind and no little skill to fashion a late chance for himself but as with most of his team’s efforts on the night, it was right at Blackman and made for a comfortable save.
Unable to be separated after 120 minutes, penalties would decide the tie. Former Chelsea schoolboy Cameron McGeehan put his first effort against the crossbar and Blackman saved Josh Murphy’s second effort, allowing successful strikes from Chalobah, Piazon, Kiwomya and Baker to put the Blues through to the fifth round, where they’ll face West Ham United.
Team: Blackman, Kane, Aké, Pappoe (Nkumu 26), Nditi, Chalobah (c), Swift, Baker, Piazon, Affane (Kiwomya 61), Piazon, Feruz (Gordon 108)
Booked: Baker, Kane