Chelsea’s Under-18s booked their place in a record-equalling fifth consecutive FA Youth Cup Final on Friday night after seeing off Blackburn Rovers’ best efforts at Stamford Bridge.
Holding a single-goal lead from the first leg at Ewood Park a fortnight ago, the young Blues were in no mood to play around during a scintillating first half in which they put the tie beyond all doubt. Goals from Dujon Sterling, Jacob Maddox and Tammy Abraham settled the contest and rendered Lewis Mansell’s second-half header little more than a consolation.
They become the first side since the Busby Babes of Manchester United in the 1950s to achieve the feat of five in a row and will now face a rematch against Manchester City, opponents in the Final a year ago.
As usual, make sure you check out Dan Davies’ match gallery HERE.
Coach Joe Edwards made two changes from the side that started at Ewood, with Maddox and Mason Mount – who each came on to positive effect then – coming in for Isaac Christie-Davies and the unwell Kyle Scott. Jay Dasilva was absent through injury and not risked ahead of next weekend’s trip to Switzerland for the UEFA Youth League, but Jake Clarke-Salter did captain the side a week after making his first-team debut.
Blackburn were energetic in their start at home last time out but they weren’t given the chance to do the same here with Chelsea on home turf. The Blues enjoyed plenty of possession and played the game at their tempo with Trevoh Chalobah almost releasing Abraham with an early through ball, but it only took twelve minutes for them to find a way through and put clear daylight between the two sides on aggregate.
It was the ever-present Mukhtar Ali at the heart of things as his inch-perfect through ball spun gloriously into Sterling’s path, and the 16 year-old, playing wide on the right, needed little invitation to take the ball under control and slot the ball beyond goalkeeper Andrew Fisher with the confidence and aplomb of a much senior player.
From there they turned up the heat. Fikayo Tomori headed over from a corner and Abraham was off target following good play by the lively duo of Maddox and Mount as the chances began to rack up, whilst Rovers were restricted to an ambitious dig from the edge of the area by Willem Tomlinson that sailed harmlessly over Nathan Baxter’s crossbar.
Mount released Abraham only for the big forward to be crowded out at the last moment but he was duly involved in making it 2-0 next up; he found Sterling, who this time turned provider in finding Maddox, who still had plenty to do but made it look easy in rounding Fisher and tucking home from the tightest of angles.
If that wasn’t enough to consider things done and dusted, then Abraham making it three, and 4-0 on aggregate, did the trick just after the half hour mark. Mount, effervescent and vivacious throughout in a wonderful individual display, worked hard to win the ball back and, once he had it, slipped his leading scorer in on goal to the left of centre. A clinical finish in off the far post made it 24 for the season and set about thoughts of a rematch against City at the end of the month.
Abraham did have the ball in the net again before the break but was adjudged to have been in an offside position, and shortly after the restart he whacked one wide of the near post following a strong Josh Grant tackle as both he and Chelsea looked to add to their tally. They had been both ruthless and efficient in going about their business and looked as good as they have done all season.
Perhaps understandably with a hectic schedule ahead of them, they did take their foot off the gas a little as the game wore on. Clarke-Salter made way for Joseph Colley with maybe the first team in mind, and Blackburn were able to notch a consolation when top goalscorer Lewis Mansell headed home at the near post. They might have had further reward for a good spell midway through the second period but Baxter was on hand to make a pair of smart saves, especially from Joe Rankin-Costello’s looping effort.
Chelsea, though, had the last word as they had deserved to over the course of the tie. Sterling rampaged down the right before delivering a cross too hot for Maddox to handle, whilst Mount might have done better when given time and space to beat Fisher at the end of a rapid counter-attack. The 17 year-old duo combined to great effect all evening and did so again at the death with Maddox’s well-timed volley beaten away by the indefatigable Fisher, his team’s best player in both matches.
And so it’s Manchester City again, with the first leg likely to be at their ‘Minihad’ academy stadium before a return date at the Bridge, both likely to be at the end of April. Twelve months ago two Tammy Abraham goals and a third from Dominic Solanke gave Chelsea a 3-1 first-leg lead which Izzy Brown and Abraham made good on at home; both sides return roughly half of last year’s faces but it promises to be an altogether different, yet no less fascinating affair.
Chelsea: Baxter, Grant, Tomori, Clarke-Salter (c) (Colley 70), Chalobah (Wakefield 70), Sammut, Sterling, Ali (Christie-Davies 77), Abraham, Mount, Maddox.
Subs not Used: Cumming, Ugbo
Goals: Sterling ’13, Maddox ’30, Abraham ‘34
Blackburn Rovers: Fisher, Travis, Askew, Hardcastle, Platt, Wharton (c), Pemberton (Steer 82), Rankin-Costello, Mansell, Tomlinson (Grayson 63), Howarth (Fawns 71)
Subs not Used: Ascroft, Magloire
Goal: Mansell ‘62