FA Youth Cup Final First Leg: Fulham 3-2 Chelsea

The first ever West London FA Youth Cup Final sits finely poised halfway through the two legs as Fulham drew first blood with a 3-2 victory at Craven Cottage on Monday night.

Five goals in a frenetic second half half-hour saw the hosts edge themselves ahead in the tie but on a breathless evening the score could easily have been both higher and in Chelsea’s favour, but things as they are leave us well set for a sensational spectacle at Stamford Bridge next Bank Holiday Monday.

You can view Dan Davies’ always excellent match gallery HERE.

The team sheets showed one or two surprises on the Chelsea team with neither Mitchell Beeney (first team duty) nor Alex Kiwomya (illness) available to Adi Viveash on the big occasion. It meant a first Youth Cup outing for Brad Collins whilst Kiwomya’s place was taken by Isaiah Brown as Jay Dasilva retained his place from the Semi Final Second Leg against Arsenal.

Collins kept goal behind a back four of Isak Ssewankambo, Andreas Christensen, Jake Clarke-Salter and Ola Aina, whilst a midfield trio so impressive over 180 minutes against the Gunners continued with Jordan Houghton, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Charlie Colkett reprising their roles. Schoolboy Dominic Solanke centred Brown and Dasilva in attack.

Fulham lined up as expected with Josh Smile preferred in midfield to the more attacking Irish forward Dean O’Halloran, and in Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembele they had two players with recent Premier League experience to their names. They would play vital roles.

A healthy crowd greeted the players, although it was hard not to think the numbers could have been greater but for public transport issues, and Chelsea were quickest out of the gate as they looked more at home in their third Final in as many years. Their hosts were at this stage of the competition for the very first time and had Slovakian goalkeeper Marek Rodak to thank for keeping them on terms in the first five minutes as both Colkett and Loftus-Cheek had near-post efforts smothered.

Brown extended him yet further when he took a searching pass from Clarke-Salter down inside left-back Jordan Evans and headed for goal, but he couldn’t strike gold with a low skidding effort that initially wrong-footed the goalkeeper before he was able to kick it to safety. It was a typically keen opening twenty minutes by the Blues but not for the first time they were unable to make their advantage count on the scoreboard, and Fulham proved far too good a team to not have their own say on proceedings.

Captain Liam Donnelly had their first attempt at goal with a header from Emmerson Hyndman’s corner that sailed wide before Dembele came to life and threatened only to be handily dealt with by the ever-composed Christensen. Winger George Williams then had two penalty shouts fall on deaf ears as the referee declared Ssewankambo innocent on both occasions.

Roberts showed why he’s one of the most coveted teenage prospects in English football on the half hour mark when he won a penalty with a scintillating piece of play; cutting inside from the right past three Blue shirts before going down under Aina’s attentions. The Chelsea defender was booked and Dembele lined up the spot kick in front of the away fans at the Putney End.

Despite having played top flight football this term, the size of the task at hand appeared to get the better of him and his attempted chip down the middle merely sailed over, clipping the crossbar on its way into the delighted Chelsea supporters. It was a huge moment in the tie and the Frenchman looked crestfallen at his error.

It also saw Fulham struggle to regain their composure and the away team finished the first half much the better team. A double goal-line clearance from Cameron Burgess kept Houghton and Brown at bay whilst Houghton then saw a goal-bound shot flick off a white shirt and over the crossbar for a corner, and there had also been a moment for Solanke as he latched onto Clarke-Salter’s through ball only to once again find Rodak in the way at the near post.

They got their due rewards within five minutes of the restart with the game’s opening goal coming from a relatively unlikely source. Dasilva, the youngest player on the pitch having only turned sixteen last week, found himself unmarked at the far post to receive the ball from a marauding Brown run and duly unleashed a rocket of a finish into the far corner, leaving Rodak with no chance of keeping this one out.

Those in blue looked rampant and increasingly likely to put a stranglehold over the final but by hook or by crook, Fulham kept the lead to just one. Ssewankambo headed inches wide after meeting Colkett’s corner, Houghton was again denied by a brave Burgess block, and Clarke-Salter couldn’t quite arch his body accordingly to head towards goal after Solanke had bothered Rodak in the six yard box from another set piece.

Viveash decided to introduce the in-form Kasey Palmer in midfield for Houghton in a bid to turn the screw but Steve Wigley’s response in the home dugout was ultimately more influential in the short term. O’Halloran replaced Smile as Fulham moved to a more attacking formation and by combining their bolstered attack with a new-found intensity, they changed the face of the game with three goals in nine minutes.

The first came from a left wing corner and it was leading scorer Dembele who got them on terms, heading home at the far post having escaped the attentions of Chelsea’s defence. Less than two minutes later the turnaround had been completed when Hyndman jinked his way past Brown and towards the edge of the box before getting lucky as his left-footed effort deflected off Christensen, deceived Collins and flicked in off the base of the post.

The Blues, in Viveash’s own words, were well and truly wobbling and gave themselves a much harder task when they went 3-1 behind from another corner kick. In a move the Whites have utilised time and again this season, a deep delivery to the far post was headed back in by Donnelly and turned home from close range by Burgess, who capped his impressive display with a rare goal.

With ten minutes remaining, Chelsea had a hole to dig themselves out of but they had no shortage of boys willing to lend a hand and they set up camp in the Fulham third trying to reduce the deficit back to one. Dasilva might have had a hat-trick on another night but found Rodak harder to beat with another left-footed strike and a low diving header, but another diminutive starlet would have better luck with seven minutes left on the clock.

Charly Musonda, like Palmer, had been keen to get on the ball and influence the game after arriving from the bench and the Belgian played a patient game with Loftus-Cheek in waiting for the space to open up for a shot at goal rather than hitting and hoping. He got the turn of luck his endeavours had deserved as Rodak made a hash of his shot, but 3-2 looked a much more favourable scoreline to turn around at the other end of New King’s Road next week than 3-1 had.

They might even have found themselves on terms as Palmer’s long-range volley was superbly turned around the post only for the referee to signal a goal kick. Instead, Chelsea find themselves going into another FA Youth Cup Final Second Leg at home in a bid to turn around an unfortunate first leg scoreline.

Twelve months ago they lost 1-0 at Norwich despite dominating and ultimately relinquished their hold on the trophy as the Canaries won 3-2 in SW6. With many a ghost to be laid to rest, next week’s reprisal is not one to be missed.

Fulham: Rodak, Sheckleford, Donnelly (c), Burgess, Evans (Baba), Sambou, Smile (O’Halloran), Hyndman, Roberts (Walker), Williams, Dembele
Subs not Used: Norman, Redford

Goals: Dembele, Hyndman, Burgess
Booked: Burgess

Chelsea: Collins, Ssewankambo, Christensen, Clarke-Salter (Dabo), Aina, Houghton (Palmer), Loftus-Cheek (c), Colkett, Brown, Dasilva, Solanke (Musonda)
Subs not Used: Scott, Sammut

Goals: Dasilva, Musonda
Booked: Aina, Ssewankambo