Chelsea reached a seventh successive FA Youth Cup Semi Final on Friday night as they emerged victorious against a tough Reading side at Stamford Bridge.
Second-half goals from Jay Dasilva and Tammy Abraham were enough to see the Blues to a 2-1 win but they were made to fight for their reward as Axel Andresson scored a late goal for the visitors on a night where there were three missed penalties and a red card to add to the drama.
Dan Davies’ always-excellent match gallery is available to view HERE.
With a veritable wealth of options available to him, Chelsea coach Joe Edwards retained the three-man defence that has been deployed in every previous round, but called upon the experienced heads of Ruben Sammut, Mukhtar Ali, Isaac Christie-Davies and Kyle Scott to control the centre of the pitch against a Reading side expected to defend deep and take their chances on the break.
The two teams had finished first and second in the Barclays Under-18 Premier League Southern group this season and had traded 2-0 home wins heading into the big cup clash, and it was the visitors clad in a fetching lilac strip that threatened first as Sam Smith broke away onto a long through ball only to fire well clear of Nathan Baxter’s goal at the Matthew Harding Stand end.
Midfielder Tyler Frost hooked a more ambitious effort wide of the target shortly after in a generally bright opening from Reading, who looked content to allow Chelsea plenty of the ball and made life hard for them to break through in the final third. Ali had their first shot of note, a speculative 25-yarder gobbled up easily by Luke Southwood in the away goal, and Scott followed suit with a neat turn and spin before curling wide.
The Blues grew into the game with more possession and a stronger territorial advantage testing the Reading resolve and the chances began to come more steadily. Ali bobbled a first-time strike wide from the edge of the area before Charlie Wakefield took off on a mazy run through the centre of the pitch and placed his finish inches wide of the top corner with Southwood left helpless.
It was Wakefield’s powerful and direct running that drew the first penalty of the night shortly before half time. Coming in from the right, he rampaged straight toward Andresson, who couldn’t coordinate his body sufficiently to get out of the way and felled his man on the edge of the area. After a moment of deliberation the referee and his assistant decided it had occurred in the box, with television replays suggesting Reading were perhaps unlucky and that the offence occurred the other side of the white line.
In any event Abraham stepped up but saw Southwood fling himself to his left to beat the ball away. Chelsea’s leading scorer should then have had a chance at redemption as he went through on goal only to be brought down by Southwood himself, but this time no penalty was awarded and the score remained 0-0 at half time.
Wakefield didn’t return for the second half, replaced by the versatile Under-16 player Dujon Sterling, and it would prove to be a significant moment in the evening’s proceedings. He would soon play his part (and then some) but not before Scott and Abraham had each gone close to scoring as Chelsea turned the screw further.
It was going to take a moment of individual excellence to break the visitors’ resolve and Sterling provided it two minutes shy of the hour mark. Collecting the ball from Christie-Davies, he hared away from Omar Richards down the Chelsea right and made a bee-line for the goal. Southwood saved his cross-shot but Dasilva was on hand to turn home from a couple of yards out to make it 1-0 with his second goal of the week, having scored in similar circumstances against Valencia in Tuesday’s UEFA Youth League fixture.
Reading didn’t look to be a team especially well equipped to suddenly open up and come from behind and, indeed, it was Chelsea who took a firmer hold over the game with the lead in their pocket. The ball was moved in a sharper fashion and clearer chances began to develop; twice more Abraham found his path to goal denied but he did eventually end his mini-goal drought when he was able to stoop and nod home from six yards out after Christie-Davies had done well on the right.
At 2-0 with a quarter of an hour remaining, Chelsea should have been able to see the tie out relatively comfortably, but the FA Youth Cup regularly takes dramatic twists and turns and this one was no different. England Under-16 forward Danny Loader came off the Reading bench to win a penalty for a foul by Jake Clarke-Salter but, with regular taker Joshua Barrett having already made way, Tyler Frost was forced to deputise and watched agonisingly as his effort hit the crossbar.
The ball went for a corner though and it was from there that Reading set up a grandstand finish. The ball was sent deep to the far post where Andresson headed home for his second goal against Chelsea this season and sixth of the season altogether, and it gave his team a glimmer of hope. It almost turned into a full-blown crack of light when Frost threw a delivery across the face of goal with Loader wide open but the ball eluded him and ran out for a goal kick.
Six minutes of additional time heightened the drama but Reading began to look a spent force and Sterling’s fresher legs once again made a difference when he set off on another powerful run only to be hauled down in the box by Daniel Akinwunmi. The Reading man was sent off for his indiscretion but, despite Ali taking over duties from the spot, Southwood was able to keep out his second penalty of the night.
There was just enough time for Sammut and substitute Jacob Maddox to spurn openings to make it safe but the home team did emerge deserved winners and booked their place in a two-legged Semi Final against Blackburn Rovers in March. The first leg will be played at Ewood Park and the second at Stamford Bridge as they seek to reach a fifth straight final.
Chelsea: Baxter, Chalobah, Tomori, Clarke-Salter (c), J.Dasilva, Sammut, Wakefield (Sterling 45), Ali, Abraham, Scott (Maddox 70), Christie-Davies
Subs not Used: Ugbo, Thompson, Mount
Goals: Dasilva ’58, Abraham ‘69
Booked: Clarke-Salter, Maddox, Ali
Reading: Southwood, Akinwunmi, Richards (Howe 79), Bennett (Coleman 70), Osho, Andresson, Frost, East, Smith, Barrett (c) (Loader 73), Davis
Subs not Used: Tupper, Holmes
Booked: Bennett, Akinwunmi, Smith, Andresson
Sent Off: Akinwunmi