Norwich City edged the first leg of the 2012-13 FA Youth Cup Final courtesy of a last-gasp penalty in a pulsating opening game in front of more than 21,000 fans at Carrow Road.
Both teams spurned a series of good chances throughout the night before former Chelsea schoolboy Cameron McGeehan converted a 94th minute spot kick after Josh Murphy had been fouled by Alex Davey.
With Adam Nditi and Andreas Christensen still absent through injury, Adi Viveash made just one change from the last away tie in the competition at Liverpool in the Semi Finals, bringing Nathan Aké in for the Danish defender Christensen. It meant schoolboys Charlie Colkett, Ola Aina and Jeremie Boga continued in the starting team alongside the more recognisable faces, whilst another in Charly Musonda was named amongst the substitutes for the first time.
Norwich were without pacy midfielder Reece Hall-Johnson but were otherwise able to field what would be considered their strongest eleven, which featured lively twin wingers Jacob and Josh Murphy.
Belying their reputation as slow starters, the Blues might have found themselves ahead with just 45 seconds on the clock. Colkett released Boga with an excellent pass, but just as the Frenchman was about to shoot, McGeehan intervened with a superb tackle at the last.
It did set the tone for a Chelsea-dominated opening period though, and despite a couple of nervous moments at the back from Aina in the early going, the visitors settled well and moved the ball crisply and with a purpose. Colkett in particular was keen to pull the strings in the space afforded to him in Norwich territory, and it took a dubious flag from the linesman to deny Islam Feruz the chance to benefit from the creativity behind him.
The Scotsman would have his fair share of openings though, and few were better than the one which fell his way after ten minutes. Alex Kiwomya showed industry and craft on the right to fashion a cross, but despite being blessed with time and space just eight yards out, Feruz slammed his shot high over the bar.
The same pair would combine once again not long afterwards, but the finish was lacking again, and it would become a theme throughout the first half. Norwich, meanwhile, looked predictably dangerous on the break, especially when the Murphy brothers got the chance to run at Aina and Kevin Wright out wide, but Mitchell Beeney had considerably little to do.
He might’ve been asked to do more on occasion, but the Canaries only really threatened when they were able to sling the ball into the box towards powerful centre-forward Carlton Morris, but even then Aina and Davey made timely interventions to clear the ball from danger.
Long shots from captain Lewis Baker and from Colkett missed the target without worrying loanee goalkeeper Will Britt, but when Chelsea got the ball closer to the goal, they were regularly within inches of opening the scoring.
Aké saw a header inside the six yard box saved by Britt before his follow-up was scrambled off the line by Cameron Norman, whilst a similar fate befell Feruz, who saw a header cleared from under his own crossbar by Cameron King, and the rebound eventually prodded wide to ensure a 0-0 scoreline at the break.
Norwich enjoyed their best spell of the game in the ten minutes immediately following the restart, playing more of the game in Chelsea territory and forcing the issue a little bit more. They were rewarded with their first real chance of the game after 55 minutes when Morris picked up a loose ball and beat Davey, but couldn’t keep his shot down.
Viveash made his almost customary first substitution after an hour, introducing John Swift in place of Colkett in a move that many would have expected. He immediately added more of a presence with his combative playing style, but Norwich continued to assert themselves and Jacob Murphy should have done better with a shot from wide on the right which Beeney watched sail wide.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Baker and Feruz all then saw shots from distance blocked by hard-working Norwich defenders, whilst Swift managed to beat the yellow wall but with an effort which lacked power and failed to test Britt. Kiwomya tried to then do it all by himself, streaking through yellow shirts on a 40-yard run into the box, but even then, when he got the shot off it was prevented from ever getting to Britt in the home goal.
Musonda made his competitive Chelsea debut with just over fifteen minutes remaining in a move which saw Feruz withdrawn and Kiwomya pushed into attack, whilst Norwich made their own change in the form of Roderick Young for the ineffectual King.
With tired legs taking effect in the latter stages, the quick forwards on both teams threatened to become decisive but poor first touches from Kiwomya and Jacob Murphy respectively prevented either from having the chance to shoot which had appeared to them.
Murphy then went marauding through a lethargic Chelsea midfield and had the opportunity to release the newly-arrived Young, who was well placed to run through on goal, but like so many moments on the night, the final execution was lacking and Beeney was able to gather comfortably.
In the final minute of three additional for stoppages, Norwich were awarded the penalty which gave them the edge. Davey stumbled when trying to defend against Murphy, and in trying to clear the ball with his head on the way down, brought down the man for a certain spot kick. McGeehan stepped up to smash the ball into the roof of the net to give his team a slender lead ahead of the return fixture at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight’s time.
Norwich City: Britt, Norman, Toffolo, McFadden, Wyatt, McGeehan (c), Randall, King (Young), Josh Murphy, Jacob Murphy, Morris
Subs not Used: Browne, Reading, Hodd, Lokko
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina, Davey, Aké, Wright, Baker (c), Loftus-Cheek, Colkett (Swift), Boga, Kiwomya, Feruz (Musonda)
Subs not Used: Killip, Dabo, Conroy
Goal: McGeehan 90 pen (NCFC)
Booked: Aina (CFC)