Chelsea’s quest for a fourth successive FA Youth Cup triumph began in style on Tuesday evening with a 5-0 hammering of Cardiff City in the Third Round at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium.
In control of things from minute one, the Blues once again outlined their credentials as favourites for the country’s most prestigious youth competition by clinically firing their way into a Fourth Round date away to either Oldham Athletic or Birmingham City. Mason Mount opened the scoring before half time and a flurry of four goals in seven second-half minutes racked up the impressive final score; Iké Ugbo notching a brace whilst Tariq Uwakwe and Jacob Maddox also got in on the act.
Having used the league trip to Arsenal a fortnight ago as a dress rehearsal of sorts, manager Jody Morris sprung a couple of surprises with his first youth cup team selection ahead of kickoff. Jared Thompson started in goal as the most experienced of the three stoppers available to him, whilst Reece James kept his ever-present Under-18 run going this season with a start at right-back, freeing Dujon Sterling to operate in a more advanced position.
To best accommodate him, Morris shifted to a 4-3-3 formation with Luke McCormick anchoring the midfield behind the game-changing talents of Maddox and captain Mason Mount. Harvey St Clair was also included from the start on the left wing after grabbing half a dozen goals so far this term, meaning Ugbo started as a lone front man with youth team leading goalscorer Martell Taylor-Crossdale on the bench.
Cardiff have endured a frustrating season so far, with a handful of impressive results balanced out by disappointing outcomes; in essence what youth football is often about. Facing their toughest possible assignment here though, they sat back from the off and sought to soak up as much Chelsea pressure as possible whilst seeking to make whatever hay they could out of their forays forward. They were under the cosh straight away though, packing red shirts deep against a tide of blue, and Mount twice chanced his arm from the edge of the area without reward.
Sterling and James were in good form down the right, giving their Welsh visitors a lot to think about, and it was from one of their numerous crosses that Ugbo might have opened the scoring with an acrobatic volley that just lacked accuracy. Another delivery soon after looked to have found St Clair at the back post, but he was too short to nod into the wide-open goal.
Inevitably, the supply line down the right paid dividends and produced the first goal of the night. Sterling cut the ball back into Mount’s path, and the skipper swept home confidently from just inside the box for his third goal of the season. Joseph Colley almost doubled the lead moments later when he got on the end of a corner; his deflected effort looping up and over Scott Coughlan’s crossbar.
Thompson was considerably less busy at the other end, only being required to intervene once to bravely beat Mark Harris to a loose ball into the box from the right, but he was otherwise a spectator as Chelsea continued to dictate the contest. A lovely backheel from Ugbo set St Clair free down the left but his low strike didn’t ask too much of Coughlan, and Sterling twice more found good areas down the right in which to cross and cause all kind of mayhem in the Cardiff area.
One final sweeping move covering the length and breadth of the pitch almost came off with Grant picking out Maddox, who couldn’t quite take the ball into his path at the end of it, but Chelsea went in at the break having fully earned their advantage.
Uwakwe replaced McCormick for the second half and, despite the hosts struggling to get back into their groove for five or ten minutes, his arrival heralded an immediate impact. Starting the move thirty yards from goal, Maddox and then Josh Grant were involved before the latter slid the return ball across the face of goal, where Uwakwe turned home neatly at the near post to double the lead.
2-0 became 4-0 within the space of three minute; Cardiff substitute Connor Davies completely misjudged a high ball in the area and handled it, compelling referee Abbleby to point to the spot. Ugbo stepped up to beat Coughlan down the middle, and it wasn’t over there. Almost directly from kickoff, Maddox collected possession and jinked his way down the left before cutting inside and unleashing a powerful low strike that beat Coughlan from the edge of the area to well and truly finish the tie.
From there on in it was simply a case of how many. Ugbo made it 5-0 a mere five minutes after converting his penalty, and it was arguably an even easier finish put on a plate for him by the impressive St Clair. The last thing Cardiff will have wanted at that stage was to see 13-goal Martell Taylor-Crossdale coming on from the bench, but he and George McEachran replaced James and St Clair with a fine evening’s work apiece in the books.
He had his chances too, firing just past the top corner with a solo strike before side-footing over from six yards out after being found by one of a number of very good crosses from Grant. At this stage they were simply cruising their home; close to adding to their tally here and there but without the pressure of having to do so.
The result was an appropriate end to a fantastic calendar year of 2016 for the Under-18 group as a whole, one in which they added another Youth Cup to the trophy cabinet, finished atop the Southern League section for 2015-16 and closed out this year at the summit, and went through a full 365 days unbeaten at home. They’ll hope to raise the bar again in 2017, but before then many of them will be involved in the two remaining Development Squad fixtures before Christmas. They both come in the Premier League International Cup, with Dinamo Zagreb being hosted on Friday and Swansea City on December 22nd, both at Aldershot.
Chelsea: Thompson, James (McEachran 68), Colley, T.Chalobah, Grant, McCormick (Uwakwe 45), Sterling, Mount (c), Ugbo, Maddox, St Clair (Taylor-Crossdale 68)
Subs not Used: Guehi, Cumming
Goals: Mount ’15, Uwakwe ‘58, Ugbo ‘60 (pen), ‘64, Maddox ‘61
Booked: McCormick, Maddox
Cardiff City: Coughlan, Coxe (c), Kelly, Welch, Bodenham, Baldwin, Waite (Wootton 70), Young, Harris, Spence (Margetson 90), Sosani (C.Davies 51)
Subs not Used: Burwood, Sharif
Booked: Welch, Wootton