Chelsea’s Under-18s booked a spot in a fifth consecutive FA Youth Cup Quarter Final with a 2-0 win away to Cardiff City on Tuesday evening.
The youngsters were made to work hard for their victory as they took on a very defensively-minded Cardiff side but an early goal from Dominic Solanke set them on their way, and following more than an hour of probing, Alex Kiwomya’s 77th minute goal secured yet another last eight berth for an academy that treats this competition with the utmost importance.
Manager Adi Viveash opted to take a stronger-than-usual squad to the Welsh capital for his third Youth Cup fixture of the season, with the group including Under-21 regulars Kiwomya and Andreas Christensen for the first time in this season’s campaign. There were four changes from the side that beat Sheffield Wednesday in Round Four; Christensen, Kiwomya, Jordan Houghton and Jeremie Boga replacing Jonathan Muleba (who has departed for Bournemouth), George Cole, Charly Musonda and Isaiah Brown, with the latter duo sidelined through injury.
Cardiff came into the match on an eight-match unbeaten run in their own league and featured a handful of Welsh youth internationals but got off to the worst possible start. Less than four minutes had been played when defender Tom James mis-judged a header back to his goalkeeper, and the resulting confusion allowed Solanke to steal in and finish the chance with the utmost confidence.
The Blues were very lively in the opening stages and dominated the first ten minutes almost to the point where the home team were unable to get out of their own half. Boga had a lot of touches coming into central areas from the left and dragged a shot wide of Joe Massaro’s goal, whilst the impressive Fankaty Dabo at right-back got into a dangerous area and looked to find Kiwomya at the near post, but the chance eventually went begging.
Cardiff’s approach was to defend in numbers and flood the middle of the pitch with red shirts, then take advantage as much as possible on the break. The pace of Abdi Noor and Yora Enzam ensured that the Chelsea defenders were required to be alert, although Dion Conroy was fortunate to escape a booking midway through the first half when hacking down Noor after a poor kick out by Beeney. The resulting set-piece was put both high and wide by James as he sought to atone for his earlier mistake.
Kiwomya, following Boga’s lead, looked to get involved in the game more by coming inside from his isolated position on the right and chanced his arm with a floating effort from 25 yards out at the end of a long spell of Blues possession, but Massaro was able to pluck it out of the air with relative ease. It was a period of play which encapsulated much of the first 45 minutes; the visitors were more than happy to retain the ball – even if going sideways or backwards – in a bid to draw Cardiff out of their defensive shell, but ultimately lacked penetration as the Bluebirds remained diligent and stuck to their defensive tasks well.
The opening moments of the second half produced more of the same as Chelsea enjoyed the lion’s share of both the ball and the territory, but were unable to carve out consistent goalscoring opportunities. In a bid to change that, Viveash dipped into his substitutes and introduced the fleet-footed Reece Mitchell in place of Jordan Houghton.
The move saw Colkett drop deeper into midfield and Boga play behind Solanke, something he had been doing for most of the match anyway. Colkett immediately drew Massaro into a low save before the goalkeeper was then booked for pole-axing Solanke on a run in behind; further punishment wasn’t considered because the Chelsea frontman was moving away from goal at the time.
Colkett’s change of position also instigated a greater emphasis on the vertical threat from the Blues with a series of longer, slide-rule type passes attempted, and it was one in particular from Ola Aina that led to the game’s best chance being created midway through the second period. The full-back released Mitchell, who got the better of Dylan Rees and found Solanke with his cross, but the header – from no more than six yards out – was disappointingly off target.
Five minutes later, Kiwomya found a rare pocket of space on the edge of the Cardiff penalty area after a driving run by Boga and was denied by the goalpost. Boga had kept moving off the ball and was first to the rebound, but Massaro did well to adjust to a deflection and kept the deficit at just one, although that fact then owed much to Solanke, who contrived to shoot wide when unmarked just eight yards out.
However, it merely delayed the inevitable and Chelsea put the tie to bed in their next attack. Dabo’s cross from the right eluded everybody but was rescued by Mitchell on the other flank, and he put the ball back into the box and allowed Kiwomya to swivel and beat Massaro from six yards out.
Two nearly became three immediately following kick-off as Aina picked out an unmarked Solanke, but the header was once again lacking in conviction and this time came crashing back off the crossbar.
Isak Ssewankambo replaced Ruben Loftus-Cheek inside the last ten minutes as Chelsea were finally able to play with the freedom and expression allowed by a two-goal lead, and Boga even took to shooting at the end of another lengthy run, but Massaro was again equal to it. At the other end, Cardiff substitute Eli Phipps curled one into the arms of Mitchell Beeney for what was the Blues stopper’s first save of the night.
There was just enough time left for Boga to go close one more time and for Kasey Palmer to get a minute or two of action, but overall it was a thoroughly professional performance by the young Blues, who now face Newcastle in a Quarter Final tie set to be played at St. James’ Park at some point in March.
Cardiff City: Massaro, Rees (Wickham 67), Tutonda, Patten, C.Watkins, James, Roche, B.Watkins, Noor (Phipps 82), Southam (c), Enzam (J.Watkins 53)
Subs not Used: Burridge, Veale
Chelsea: Beeney, Dabo, Christensen, Conroy, Aina, Houghton (Mitchell 56), Loftus-Cheek (c) (Ssewankambo 82), Colkett, Kiwomya (Palmer 90), Boga, Solanke
Subs not Used: Collins, Abraham