Chelsea relinquished their hold on the FA Youth Cup after losing 3-2 to Norwich City at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening, a result which handed the Canaries a 4-2 aggregate victory and a first competition win since 1983.
Facing a one-goal deficit from the first leg, the young Blues started well and were on terms early when Jeremie Boga opened the scoring in sublime style, but some errant defending allowed Norwich to grab two quick goals before half time to take control of the tie. They sealed the win with a late Josh Murphy goal, which meant Boga’s second three minutes from time was little more than an added consolation.
Adi Viveash made three changes from his first leg selection, with the most important of them enforced. Nathan Aké was required for first team duty ahead of the Europa League Final, but was replaced by the fit-again Andreas Christensen at the heart of the Blues’ defence. Adam Nditi was also healthy after an injury suffered in early April and resumed at left-back instead of deputy Kevin Wright, whilst John Swift started ahead of Charlie Colkett.
Swift lined up on the right of an attacking three behind usual front man Islam Feruz, which meant Alex Kiwomya shifted to the left, having been so effective throughout the competition. Boga was afforded his favoured central role after being used wider in recent times, and would go on to show exactly why with an imperious performance.
After both sides had early half-chances go begging when respective shots were blocked, Frenchman Boga exploded into action, driving into the heart of the Norwich defence in a blur of blue before composing himself to drill a low shot into the bottom corner beyond the reach of Will Britt.
It was the sort of moment Viveash would have wanted; his team now level on aggregate and in the ascendancy on the night. They had the platform to take the game by the scruff of the neck and play the game on their terms.
There were, however, two teams on the pitch though, and having proved themselves a thoroughly tough nut to crack a fortnight earlier at Carrow Road, Norwich were going about their business methodically and with determination. They hunted in packs, defended collectively with relentless commitment, and used the devastating pace of twin brothers Jacob and Josh Murphy and the rugged forward play of Carlton Morris to play out to on the break.
They were afforded some of their better moments by unfortunately slack Chelsea defending though, and their equaliser on the night six minutes after Boga’s strike owed much to exactly that. A Canaries corner was taken quickly with home players switching off, and before anyone knew it Josh Murphy’s ball into the near post came off a combination of Nditi and Mitchell Beeney and into the net.
It sent the 3000 travelling fans behind the goal into raptures, with their side having restored the aggregate lead they had worked so hard for at home. Chelsea responded well though, with Kiwomya seeing a shot blocked and a follow-up roll agonisingly wide, whilst Britt used the full extent of his frame to beat away a well-hit free kick by captain Lewis Baker.
Baker then showed off his array of talents by breaking away in midfield and sliding an inch-perfect ball into the stride of Feruz, who had the goal at his mercy. Yet whereas earlier in the season he would have found the bottom corner with unerring accuracy, his form deserted him at the most important of times and he put it wide of the target.
Profligacy in front of goal has been something of an achilles heel to the junior Blues in recent times and Norwich would duly make them pay shortly before the break. After Baker had cleared off the line to deny Jacob Murphy, referee Neil Swarbrick awarded a somewhat dubious penalty when Alex Davey was adjudged to have felled Morris in the box.
Television replays suggested the stocky forward had embellished the situation somewhat, but for the second time in the tie, former Chelsea schoolboy Cameron McGeehan stepped up to beat Beeney from twelve yards and in doing so gave his team clear daylight at 3-1 on aggregate.
Chelsea didn’t panic and rarely deviated from their gameplan and approach. They played patiently and understood that they would have their chances, but the task would get increasingly harder with every passing minute.
With no goals in the first fifteen minutes of the second half despite Baker’s cross-shot causing consternation for the yellow-clad visitors and then Britt saving a well-executed volley from the same man after enterprising play by Aina, Viveash began to dig into his wealth of reserves on the bench. He might have been doing so with just one goal to find had Feruz done better after rounding Britt on the break, but his nervous thrash at a ball with the goal gaping and the ball landing in the Shed Lower saw changes follow.
Colkett replaced Swift in a straight swap, whilst Wright was introduced to add fresh legs with Nditi tiring. The sense of urgency was palpable but Norwich – defending with eleven men behind the ball – were diligent and dogged, and began to sense they could get something on the break with Chelsea leaving fewer and fewer men back.
Charly Musonda’s introduction for Aina with twenty minutes left was the cue for Neil Adams’ men to chance their arm at putting the tie to bed, and with fifteen minutes left on the clock they did just that. They sprung a break with pace and purpose, McGeehan finding Cameron King, who patiently awaited the run of Jacob Murphy outside him. With numbers in their favour, he squared for twin brother Josh, who tapped home to close out the result.
They might have had one or two more in the last ten minutes as Chelsea threw caution to the wind with Davey pressed into an emergency striking role and just Christensen back, but a wonderful tackle by Musonda saved the day with Jacob Murphy sprinting clear towards Beeney.
The smallest glimmer of hope was given three minutes from time when Boga grabbed his second, exchanging passes with Musonda before scoring from six yards out, but with two goals required in five minutes, the odds were stacked against the home team. They tried, they overloaded but Kiwomya and Baker both had frustrating outcomes to half-chances and Mr Swarbrick’s full time whistle was the signal for a considerable party in one very yellow corner of Stamford Bridge.
It was ultimately a very disappointing way to end a season which had produced so many great memories and performances, and promised so much for the future. The hurt will doubtless be doubled for those who experienced a similar fate in the Final of the NextGen Series, but the big picture will tell a more positive story for an academy which remains very much on the up.
Congratulations to Norwich City, deserving winners with a gameplan designed to maximise their assets and executed to perfection by supremely dedicated players. Their supporters should also be praised, with over 20,000 at the home leg and an away representation at the Bridge which dwarved many Premier League turnouts.
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina (Musonda 72), Davey, Christensen, Nditi (Wright 69), Baker (c), Loftus-Cheek, Boga, Swift (Colkett 62), Kiwomya, Feruz
Subs not Used: Killip, Conroy
Norwich City: Britt, Norman, McFadden, Toffolo, Wyatt, McGeehan (c), King (Young 81), Randall (Hodd 90), Josh Murphy, Jacob Murphy, Morris
Subs not Used: Reading, Lokko, Brown
Goals; Boga 15, 87 (CFC), Beeney own goal 21, McGeehan 36 pen, Josh Murphy 76 (NCFC)
Booked: Beeney, Davey (CFC), McGeehan (NCFC)
Check out Dan Davies’ excellent gallery of the game by clicking HERE.