Chelsea’s youngsters booked a fifth FA Youth Cup Semi Final berth in six years on Friday night when they overcame a tough and spirited Derby County side 2-1 at Pride Park.
Goals from Lewis Baker and Alex Kiwomya ensured a two-legged date with either Hull City or Liverpool in the coming weeks but the hosts were always in the game and hit the woodwork three times on the night.
Adi Viveash made just one change from the team which comfortably disposed of Barnsley in Round Five, with John Swift fit enough to return to the team. Connor Hunte was the player to make way in a move which allowed Baker to move into a more advanced position, whilst Reece Mitchell continued in attack with Islam Feruz unavailable.
The Rams came into the tie with a reputation for a frenetic, hard-nosed approach off the ball, keen to assert themselves and make life harder for their more illustrious opponents as they did in beating Manchester City to reach this round, and they would live up to that approach in the opening 45 minutes. They began by flying around at speed harassing blue shirts, but the visitors dealt with things relatively well.
It took less than six minutes for Chelsea to carve out the first real chance of the game and it was a golden one too. Swift beat four men down the right on an excellent run before picking out Baker screaming through the middle unmarked, but the skipper could only shoot at home goalkeeper Ross Etheridge from the edge of the box.
Etheridge then made another save when Jeremie Boga tried his luck from long range but his night was to get worse just after the quarter hour mark when he conceded a penalty, hacking down Mitchell after the Chelsea forward pounced on some slack defending by Josh Lelan.
Baker stepped up to convert for his tenth goal of the season but Mitchell was unfortunately unable to continue, having taken quite a whack to his lower leg in winning the spot kick. Right-back Fankaty Dabo replaced the striken man, slotting in on the right wing with Alex Kiwomya moving into attack.
Going behind simply served as a reason for the hosts to step up their intention to unnerve their opponents as Jamie Hanson went through Kiwomya from behind in the air and forward Mason Bennett became the second name in the referee’s notebook for a high and reckless lunge on substitute Dabo.
The physical battering didn’t appear to be having the desired effect though as Chelsea retained their composure at the back, moving the ball around comfortably and moving it into advanced areas, where they found plentiful space in the middle in which to wreak havoc. Baker and Boga enjoyed a five minute spell before the break where they carved out a succession of chances, the highlight of which came when Baker’s spinning backheel released Kiwomya, who was denied by Etheridge.
Kiwomya had a couple more sights of goal before the break, as did Baker, but the Rams offered a reminder that games can change on a moment during first half stoppage time when Bennett connected with Andrew Dales’ cross and headed against the post.
The opening 45 minutes ended in perhaps appropriate fashion with Andreas Christensen and Adam Nditi laying prone at opposite ends of the Pride Park pitch, having been the latest victims of Derby’s approach. It had largely been a fair one; hard and edgy without crossing the line too often, but there were moments which would prove concerning to the Blues from an injury point of view.
Indeed, Christensen would become the night’s second casualty as Dion Conroy came out in his place for the start of the second half, meaning a reshuffle involving Dabo to right-back, Aké to left back and Adam Nditi up onto the wing, where he finished last Friday’s Under-21 match away to Fulham.
The attrition continued unabated but ten minutes into the second period, Derby scored a rather undeserved equaliser. Bennett picked up a loose ball from Dabo before crossing from the left, and the ball flicked off the outstretched body of Alex Davey and looped agonisingly over the head of Mitchell Beeney and into the far corner.
The goal had clearly rattled the visitors as Davey picked up a yellow for a foul on Kwame Thomas moments before Dales thundered a shot against the crossbar in a chance fashioned by many in the Chelsea ranks switching off from a Derby throw-in. The action then swung to the other end where hard work from Nditi allowed Kiwomya another sight of goal, but he was once more denied by Etheridge.
Having been forced into two changes already, Viveash’s options to mix things up in a bid to regain the authority of the game were rather limited, and midway through the second half he introduced Charlie Colkett in place of Swift. The move was likely planned with Swift having been out injured for the best part of a month, but it meant playing the rest of the game without any further changes.
Derby’s frenetic approach relented in the final quarter of the 90 minutes with their legs understandably tiring, but it allowed Chelsea to regain their composure and play the game on their terms for the first time since the first half. Kiwomya had yet another potential moment of glory but fates continued to conspire against him as he lobbed the ball into the awaiting arms of Etheridge, who looked to have rushed out too far to meet the young forward.
With ten minutes left on the clock though, he showed the rewards for persistence and patience. Shortly after Davey had made a timely intervention to prevent Dales going one on one with Beeney, Colkett spun in midfield and played a smart ball in to Kiwomya on the back side. He took a moment to shift the ball out of his feet before rifling a shot into the bottom corner which left Etheridge rooted to his spot, making it 2-1.
Derby manager Darren Wassall was forced into acting with time running out, introducing the highly rated midfield playmaker Charles Vernam for long-throw merchant Rhys Sharpe, and the new man was instantly into the action, shooting wide of Beeney’s left hand post.
Boga hit the crossbar with a deflected effort as the match moved into three additional minutes of time, but the referee inexplicably allowed two further minutes of play as Derby first won a corner and then a free kick. Hanson struck the frame of the goal for a third time on the night with the last kick of the game as Chelsea moved into the final four once again, seeking to defend their trophy from twelve months ago.
Derby County: Etheridge, Hayes, Lowe, Dawkins (c), Lelan, Hanson, Wixted (Revan 76), Dales, Thomas, Sharpe (Vernam 85), Bennett
Subs not Used: Rawson, Wassall, Johnson
Chelsea: Beeney, Christensen (Conroy 45), Davey, Aké, Nditi, Loftus-Cheek, Swift (Colkett 65), Baker (c), Boga, Kiwomya, Mitchell (Dabo 17)
Subs not Used: Killip, Ssewankambo
Goals: Davey OG (DCFC); Baker, Kiwomya (CFC)
Booked: Etheridge, Bennett (DCFC); Davey (CFC)