Chelsea produced another stunning FA Youth Cup performance to add to their scrapbook on Monday night as they defeated Charlton in Round Four of this year’s competition.
Having faced a two-goal deficit at half time, the young Blues might have appeared to many to be losing their grip on the trophy they won last April, but seasoned veterans know better than to write these boys off.
Second half strikes from Andreas Christensen and Alex Kiwomya took the tie into extra time, and Connor Hunte completed the turnaround to place this match alongside so many in recent memory.
Chelsea earned their place in the hat for this round by virtue of beating Colchester United, but this was always likely to be a tougher ask. Manager Adi Viveash had an enviously strong squad available to him, with Christensen and Jeremie Boga coming back into the fold in the absence of Jordan Houghton and Reece Mitchell.
John Swift and Ruben Loftus-Cheek lined up alongside Nathan Aké in midfield whilst captain Lewis Baker again started out wide in attack. Kiwomya joined fellow injury recoveree Dion Conroy on a very strong bench.
Charlton, featuring a handful of very young starters and no shortage of locally-sourced talent, started very well and sought to press as high as they could as often as they could. This meant a number of early backpasses to Chelsea goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney, who looked less than comfortable dealing with them on an uneven surface.
The visitors were able to play out through Loftus-Cheek and Swift but they had little support and so when red shirts swarmed them, possession was regularly conceded. Aké had a couple of sighters from long range but they would prove to be amongst the best of a poor half of attempts at Dillon Phillips’ goal.
Instead, the hosts made good on their positive start and took the lead after almost a quarter of an hour. Harry Lennon’s long, raking cross found its way to the far post, where Tom Derry duly did the rest with a thumping header.
1-0 became 2-0 midway through the first half when Harry Gerrard and Diego Poyet combined to fashion a chance for Ollie Muldoon, who swept home confidently from just inside the box.
Had Tobi Sho-Silva not seen a goal disallowed for a foul on Beeney after yet another backpass, Charlton could well have been out of sight. The same could have been said ten minutes before the break, but Gerrard’s excellent shot produced a save from Beeney to match.
Islam Feruz offered something in the closing first half moments with a sharp run and shot which dragged wide of the far post, but Chelsea went in behind and deservedly so. Viveash, however, was already at work plotting a revival and no sooner had the whistle gone had Kiwomya jumped up and kitted himself out in preparation to come on.
He replaced Fankaty Dabo, who had played well, but the change was more than just a striker for a defender. Christensen moved to right-back, Aké slotted in alongside Davey, Baker came more central and Kiwomya pushed into his familiar role as a wide forward.
It had an immediately noticeable effect, with the new man coming short for quick touches, taking his man with him before haring off into the newly-created space in behind. However, Charlton were still playing with enough confidence to be a considerable threat and demonstrated as much when the impressive Kasey Palmer volleyed just wide of the post.
The game’s third goal was, as the cliche goes, always going to be crucial and so it proved. When it arrived around the hour mark, it came from a rather unlikely source.
Christsensen was allowed to advance from right back all the way into the penalty area, where he slipped a pass to Feruz. The Scottish junior turned and shot and whilst Phillips saved, he couldn’t hold onto the ball, allowing Christensen to pounce on the loose ball for his first goal in blue.
With something to work with, Chelsea picked up the pace. Charlton took off Sho-Silva perhaps prematurely as he was a constant menace, and that allowed Davey and Aké to step out from the back and aid in the transition of play.
Hunte came on for the hard-working Swift and went wide on the left to let Boga come inside. With a much more influential core to the team, it quickly became a game dominated by the visitors, with just Palmer keeping Beeney on his toes at the other end, most notably with a fine jinking run and shot which went just wide.
Charlie Colkett was thrown into the action for Adam Nditi, but the change also saw a shift in formation. Viveash went with just three at the back, lining up Baker and Loftus-Cheek in front of them, then Hunte, Colkett, Boga and Kiwomya behind Feruz in a bold 3-2-4-1 look.
An equaliser wasn’t inevitable, but as the game ticked on, especially in the Youth Cup, there was a sense that it was on the cards. It came ten minutes from time as Loftus-Cheek spun in midfield after Chelsea cleared a corner and sent Kiwomya clear. He used his pace to full devastating effect, sprint away before rifling home to make it 2-2.
There were chances to end the game in the regulation 90 minutes, particularly for Feruz, but extra time was to be required. Charlton had made the later subs and should have had the fresher legs, but Chelsea were the fitter team and it showed.
The first half of the extra periods proved relatively uneventful before a conclusion was reached early in the second. Davey’s exquisite long pass found Hunte isolated on substitute right-back Levander Pyke, who misjudged the flight of the ball.
Hunte was able to drop his shoulder to take it down and instantly find himself in the clear. He had the composure when it mattered most and delivered a sumptuous finish to complete the comeback.
Charlton were understandably crushed but gathered themselves for one last hurrah, and caused more than a few nervous moments in the Blues’ ranks. They were unable to work Beeney though, and instead Feruz, Baker and Boga all might have added an unfair gloss to the scoreline before the final whistle went.
It looks like this year’s run will be just like last season’s; full of tension, drama, and moments of sheer disbelief. If it carries them all the way again, then so be it. They face Barnsley or Stevenage at home in Round Five, with both date and venue to be decided. If it’s anything like this – and it probably will be – you won’t want to miss it.
Charlton: Phillips, Holmes-Dennis, Gomez, Lennon, Edwards (Pyke 77), Poyet (c), Gerrard, Palmer (Thomas 91), Muldoon, Sho-Silva (Brown 66), Derry
Subs not Used: Shehaj, Adeloye
Goals: Derry ’14, Muldoon ’23
Booked: Muldoon, Holmes-Dennis
Chelsea: Beeney, Dabo (Kiwomya 45), Davey, Christensen, Nditi (Colkett 82), Aké, Loftus-Cheek, Swift (Hunte 69), Boga, Baker (c), Feruz
Subs not Used: Killip, Conroy
Goals: Christensen ’65, Kiwomya ’82, Hunte ‘109
Booked: Baker, Davey