A fourth consecutive FA Youth Cup Final beckons for Chelsea’s Under-18s after they produced a rollicking display of attacking football saw them overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit and send Tottenham Hotspur packing to the tune of a 5-2 victory on the night and 5-4 on aggregate.
As usual, they did things the hard way; as if reversing a two-goal lead wasn’t hard enough they fell a goal further behind after half an hour as Shayon Harrison continued his personal good form against the club with a spectacular volley, but quick fire responses from Dominic Solanke and Izzy Brown laid the groundwork for a second half onslaught. Solanke added a second before captain Charlie Colkett drilled home a free kick and a penalty to give the Blues clear daylight in the tie.
A late penalty scored by Harrison ensured a grandstand finish but Chelsea deservedly saw it through to another showpiece youth occasion, where they will face either Manchester City or Leicester City over two legs in late April or early May.
Check out Dan Davies’ match gallery HERE
With this being the fourth match against Spurs in a row for Joe Edwards’ Under-18s, the young coach would certainly have felt knowledgeable about his opponents and made two changes from the first leg. Fit-again centre-back Jake Clarke-Salter returned to partner Fikayo Tomori at centre-back but Ruben Sammut kept his place, moving into midfield at the expense of Kyle Scott. Jeremie Boga was also included from the start with Charly Musonda the man to make way; he played just off the front three of Brown, Solanke, and 32-goal Tammy Abraham, who netted a hat-trick against Hotspur in the weekend’s 6-4 league victory.
Chelsea’s early attacking intent came down the left, where Solanke had been stationed in part to deal with the considerable threat posed by Tottenham full-back Kyle Walker-Peters. Ably supported by Jay Dasilva, they made early inroads but when a cross found Abraham, a goal was disallowed for a foul by the big forward on goalkeeper Harry Voss, curiously preferred to the Australian custodian Thomas Glover, an impressive performer in the first leg.
Tottenham responded well though and showed far more of an attacking threat than they had offered at White Hart Lane a fortnight earlier. Zenon Stylianides lined up a long-range effort that required Brad Collins in the Chelsea goal to parry to safety before he was then called upon to get down low at his near post to keep out a well-struck try from Harrison.
The end-to-end action so typical of academy football continued unabated as Ismail Azzaoui bore down on goal before being interrupted by a combination of Clarke-Salter and Ola Aina, whilst a high looping cross from Dasilva at the other end had Voss floundering to eventually slap it to safety.
The visitors went ahead with 32 minutes played and, at the time, it looked to be a significant moment in the tie. A corner was only partially cleared and when the ball returned into the Chelsea box, Harrison was left all alone. Appeals for offside came in desperation as the prolific hitman, who had scored four against the Blues in the league on Saturday, hooked an improvised volley past Collins and into the far corner.
Away goals do not come into play in FA Youth Cup football but Chelsea nonetheless needed three goals now to even take the match to extra time. It was an ask that might have been too much for most teams but this side have been there many times before and had proven themselves capable of getting the job done. Refusing to panic they mounted sensible attacks with Colkett fizzing one wide from distance and then Brown producing a cross which whizzed across the face of goal but eluding touches from both Abraham and Boga.
He made it count with his next cross though, finding the right ball and more importantly the right man in Dominic Solanke, who slid home at the far post to score his 30th of the season and give his team a lifeline. It was one very nearly snatched away from them in a heartbeat though as Stylianides beat Collins with a shot but not the ever-alert Dasilva covering on the line.
That as much as anything might have been the key moment over the two legs, for Chelsea won a corner in first half stoppage time and made it count; Clarke-Salter’s header caused a scramble that was emphatically ended by Brown, who lashed in a shot from six yards out to make it 2-1 on the night and just 2-3 on aggregate.
Clichés about scoring at the right time would abound at the interval but it was apparent the hosts had all the momentum required in order to kick on and make good on their opportunity to complete the comeback. Abraham’s bustling run at the start of the second half encapsulated their intent as he drove away from Anton Walkes down the right before almost surprising Voss with a shot that needed turning away for a corner. From it, Clarke-Salter again connected with a good delivery by Colkett and this time it was a clean header, but one that landed agonisingly wide of the post.
Solanke made it 3-1 moments later though. Brown released Aina down the right and the powerful full-back clipped a perfect cross into the middle where it was met with a towering header for number 31 of the campaign to level things up overall, and they would soon claim the lead outright for the first time courtesy of Colkett. Brown won a free kick very wide on the right and whilst everyone awaited an inswinging delivery, the Blues’ skipper had other ideas, unleashing a very deliberate low drive inside the near post, catching Voss out and crashing into the back of the net.
There wasn’t even an hour on the clock at this point and Spurs looked shell-shocked at having their lead wiped out so emphatically. As if awoken from their slumber they suddenly remembered that they also carried a threat and Collins was in action to keep out another Harrison try before Stylianides’ cross found Owens, only for the hard-working midfielder to hit the post from six yards away.
Colkett continued his own man-of-the-match display with another dig from distance that was this time saved by Voss, and Aina wasn’t far away with a similar effort next up. He too was enjoying a fine outing and proved integral to the fifth Chelsea goal, collecting a ball from Boga before being fouled in the box. A penalty was awarded, Colkett stepped up and calmly slotted home from twelve yards to make it 5-1 and give Chelsea their own two-goal aggregate lead.
Abraham was inches away from putting his team out of sight when he got on the end of Dasilva’s wicked cross without being able to convert the chance, and as Spurs flung on substitutes Cy Goddard, Chris Paul and Kazaiah Sterling, they desperately looked for a way back into the game. It was given to them by the referee, who adjudged that Fikayo Tomori’s tackle on Shayon Harrison had flouted the rules, possibly for handball in the process of sliding.
It looked especially harsh but Harrison did the necessary from the spot to give Spurs a fighting chance for the final five minutes. It also sparked a fracas in which the goalscorer and Collins were both booked for their involvement in a melee caused by the visitors’ desire to restart as promptly as possible.
Forward they came with their place in the Final at stake, but Chelsea defended stoutly for the first time in either match. Clarke-Salter’s brave block stopped Harrison from scoring a third and Collins had to help one over the bar as Voss and just about everyone else came up for Goddard’s stoppage time free kick. Scott had a late chance to catch the Spurs ‘keeper out as the hosts cleared a corner but although he was off target from the halfway line, it wasn’t to matter as time was called on another breathtaking night of Under-18 football at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester City hold a 3-0 lead over Leicester City from the first leg of their Semi Final and are the presumptive opposition in the two-legged final, but as Chelsea themselves have proven time and time again, nothing can be taken for granted. The Blues will at least be at home in the second leg again, where they will seek to retain the trophy for the first time in over 50 years.
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Sammut (Scott 77), Brown (Palmer 90), Colkett (c), Abraham, Boga (Musonda 71), Solanke
Subs not Used: Thompson, Grant
Goals: Solanke 40, 51, Brown 45, Colkett 53, 71 pen
Booked: Collins, Scott
Tottenham Hotspur: Voss, Walker-Peters, Walkes, Owens (Paul 68), Maghoma, Carter-Vickers, Stylianides (Goddard 77), Amos, Harrison, Onomah (c), Azzaoui (Sterling 77)
Subs not Used: Glover, Edwards
Goals: Harrison 31, 82 pen
Booked: Amos, Harrison
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