Chelsea’s Under-18s made it into the Semi Finals of the FA Youth Cup for a sixth straight season as they turned in a battling display away to Newcastle United to run out 2-0 winners after Extra Time.
Izzy Brown missed an early penalty and despite dominating for long stretches, Chelsea were unable to win in normal time. Brown made amends with a well-taken goal early in extra time before Dominic Solanke secured a two-legged date against either Tottenham Hotspur or Nottingham Forest in the last four.
Coach Joe Edwards made a single change from the team that defeated Swansea by a handsome 6-1 scoreline in the previous round; calling upon the experienced services of Brown to replace the injured Jeremie Boga. It otherwise meant Brad Collins in goal, a back four of Ola Aina, Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter and Jay Dasilva, a midfield trio of captain Charlie Colkett, Kyle Scott and Charly Musonda, with Abraham joining Solanke and Brown in attack.
Newcastle featured the tie’s solitary player with significant first-team experience in striker and captain Adam Armstrong, whilst in goal they featured Freddie Woodman, who, along with Armstrong, Solanke and Brown, helped England to European Under-17 Championship glory last May. They were however without talented winger Callum Roberts, who has recently spent time on loan at Gateshead.
An extremely impressive home crowed of over 11,000 bore witness to a fine start by Chelsea in which they were awarded a penalty inside four minutes. Dasilva found himself in the opposition penalty area and skipped past two challenges before being tripped by Michael Newberry. Brown, who had converted from the spot in Round Three at Leeds, was however unable to beat spot kick expert Woodman in the home goal, planting a low and relatively unconvincing effort into his waiting arms.
It invigorated Newcastle somewhat but they were rarely able to muster up anything more threatening than a Daniel Barlaser cross that eluded Dan Ward at the far post. Instead they spent the majority of the first half camped in front of the famous Gallowgate end defending in numbers against a Blues team moving the ball cleverly and with no little potency.
Colkett was spraying the ball around especially well and picked out Dasilva in a position very similar to that from which he won the early penalty; the left-back this time pulling the ball back to Solanke, who was denied a clear shot at goal by the quick instincts of Ben Drennan.
Abraham, who came into the match with an impressive 28-goal haul so far this season, then had two chances in quick succession. His first was a powerful strike from the edge of the area heading towards the top corner before Woodman beat it away, and the second a chest down from Scott’s searching pass before flashing a volley over the top.
Still they came at the young Magpies determined to make the breakthrough, but despite the one-way traffic Woodman’s goal remained out of reach. Abraham’s incredible piece of skill allowed him to exchange passes with Brown before cutting the ball across goal to nobody in particular, whilst Musonda tried his luck from a set piece spotted a long way out and was denied by an agile tip away by the impressive Newcastle custodian.
The half time break was simply an opportunity for the Magpies to catch their breath as they were under the cosh again almost immediately following the restart. Musonda’s dazzling run took out four defenders but his shot was, predictably, turned aside by Woodman, who in turn then gathered a speculative long-range try by Scott.
Dasilva continued his own terrific individual display with a peach of a delivery in the 55th minute to put a chance on a plate for Abraham, but the Under-18s’ leading scorer fluffed his lines with an air shot from just ten yards out. A brief flurry of controversy followed when Clarke-Salter’s robust challenge on Ward left the winger unable to continue through injury, with the Chelsea man seeing yellow for his indiscretion.
That, like the early penalty, had something of a galvanising effect for the hosts and they were able to bring Collins into his first action of the evening after an hour. Jamie Cobain produced a shot from a wide position that required helping over the crossbar. After Clarke-Salter was replaced by Swedish defender Ali Suljic they continued to come out of their shells as Armstrong twisted and turned to gain a yard on Tomori only to be denied by a fine Collins save, and the Chelsea number one was alert to recover and keep Cobain out for a second time.
Instantly though, Solanke had perhaps the best opening of the evening when he was allowed a free header from Colkett’s inswinging free-kick but his glance was a couple of feet the wrong side of the crossbar. That was followed by the introduction of Kasey Palmer from the bench by Edwards as he sought a breakthrough in the regulation ninety minutes.
He was busy and keenly involved but the action rather petered out until stoppage time, when a quick flurry of chances threatened to end things before Extra Time arrived. Solanke’s volley over was followed by Longstaff driving straight at Collins, and although Abraham did have the ball in the net at the death it was rightly ruled out for a deliberate handball, and followed by a booking for the Chelsea man.
Unable to make a breakthrough in regulation, the visitors required just four of the additional thirty to finally take the lead. Tomori’s tackle on Armstrong allowed a quick transition, one set on its way by an inch-perfect through ball from Scott to release Brown. He raced away before rounding Woodman to score and wheel away in celebration in front of the home fans.
A fracas ensued in which Hunter, Dasilva and Solanke were all booked, and Edwards immediately looked to add some defensive security to his midfield by withdrawing Scott and introducing the intelligence of Ruben Sammut. His energy quickly created a turnover in possession inside Newcastle’s defensive third that looked to have given Abraham a chance but he dithered rather, and then found himself offside in the next phase of play, rendering his shot off both posts irrelevant.
The home side very much appeared to have run their race and, with ten minutes left in the tie, Solanke secured Chelsea’s place in the last four. Brown this time turned provider with a slide-rule pass, and Solanke knocked it past Woodman for his 27th of the season and a scoreline of 2-0.
Not to be outdone and perhaps concerned with Solanke closing on his own goalscoring tally, Abraham grabbed a late third and his 29th of the campaign with a two-yard tap in after Brown had rolled his way from the corner flag into the area to claim a second assist in what was a fine all-round display.
Stamford Bridge will host the home leg of the Semi Final whilst either White Hart Lane or the City Ground will be on the agenda for the Blues in early March. They will go head to head for the right to meet one of Arsenal, Crewe, Manchester City, Leicester City or Birmingham City, who are in the other side of the draw.
Newcastle United: Woodman, Cobain (Holmes 110), Laidler, Drennan (Johnson 98), Newberry, Cameron, Ward (Hunter 58), Williams, Armstrong, Longstaff, Barlaser
Subs not Used: Broccoli, Harker
Booked: Armstrong, Hunter
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Clarke-Salter (Suljic 62), Dasilva, Colkett (c), Abraham, Musonda (Palmer 67), Solanke, Scott (Sammut 96), Brown
Subs not Used: Thompson, Ali
Goals: Brown ’94, Solanke ‘110, Abraham ‘119
Booked: Clarke-Salter, Abraham, Solanke, Dasilva