Chelsea reached the last four of the Premier League Under-21 International Cup on Thursday night as they emerged victorious from another eventful ninety minutes against Tottenham Hotspur at Stevenage’s Lamex Stadium.
A first half performance of the highest quality was capped by three outrageous goals from Reece Mitchell, Kasey Palmer and Ola Aina before the hosts bounced back well later in the game. They were able to reduce arrears first through Anton Walkes and then Will Miller to set up a tense and dramatic ending but Tammy Abraham was on hand to seal a 5-2 win for the boys in Blue with a late brace.
Make sure you check out Dan Davies’ always-excellent match gallery by clicking HERE.
Andy Myers took charge once again in the competition and made five changes from the side that had won 5-4 at the same venue a fortnight earlier. Fikayo Tomori, Jay Dasilva, Charlie Colkett, Mukhtar Ali and Charly Musonda were replaced by Fankaty Dabo, Kevin Wright, Jordan Houghton, Josimar Quintero and Charlie Wakefield – making his full Under-21 debut – in order to spread playing time around as many players as possible.
Tottenham also made five changes and could no longer call upon the experienced Andros Townsend and two-goal forward Shaquille Coulthirst with both players having since secured permanent moves elsewhere, and they were stunned as their visitors roared into a 2-0 lead inside the opening ten minutes.
The first arrived when Christian Maghoma’s under-hit pass out from the back was received equally as sloppily by Anton Walkes, who was duly robbed by the returning Houghton. He handed over to Mitchell, who cut in from the left and thundered an unstoppable strike home via the crossbar from the edge of the box to leave goalkeeper Tom Glover with no chance.
The Australian stopper was equally helpless four minutes later when Palmer added to his seemingly endless highlight reel with another superb solo goal. Collecting possession out on the left, a quick drop of the shoulder saw him away from the first white shirt and quickly beyond a cluster of others into the penalty area, whereupon he opened his body and steered an inch-perfect finish into the far corner.
Lively play on the right by Wakefield allowed Palmer to see up Clarke-Salter for a header straight at Glover as Chelsea continued to exercise near-full control over proceedings, with Tottenham only able to threaten through Emmanuel Sonupe in response. The busy forward had already seen an early shot blocked by Wright but proved a menace on the break throughout the first half and went close to scoring on more than one occasion. His teasing cross from the right required Aina to intervene before it arrived at the feet of Anthony Georgiou before he then worked Brad Collins into a save as well as firing just wide close to half time.
The moment of the half, and indeed the match however, came when Aina made it 3-0 with a most stupendous goal from inside his own half. Striding onto a square ball from Houghton, he looked up and beat Glover from fully fifty yards with a low, flat and true hit that elicited a stunned reaction by those in attendance and, indeed, by Aina himself. It was his second goal of the season; the other coming from less than a yard out away to Norwich back in August.
It had the potential to completely flatten Tottenham’s spirits so close to the break but they began the second half in a far more effervescent fashion and should have been back in the game when Miller got it all wrong when presented with an opening from the edge of the area. Ten minutes after the restart, though, they did get a foothold when Walkes benefitted from a deflection to allow his strike to beat Collins.
Sparked into life by the goal, more Tottenham pressure followed with Kyle Walker-Peters chancing his arm without much luck, whilst Palmer did the same at the other end after receiving a pass from the industrious Quintero in midfield. Chelsea sensed the opportunity to play on the break a little more and were able to utilise Wakefield’s searing pace to set up a chance for a fourth but Glover was this time able to save, with the rebound then eluding the flying Palmer’s head.
Clarke-Salter was perhaps fortunate to only receive a booking for a foul on Walkes as the Spurs goalscorer ran towards goal; Miller saw his free-kick deflected wide and Veljkovic almost turned home from an almighty scramble at a corner soon after. Almost inevitably, the second did arrive for Ugo Ehiogu’s side with a little less than twenty minutes left as Miller connected with a header following a right-wing Sonupe cross and, although Collins got something on it, the spin on the ball took it over the line.
Myers responded by bringing Ruben Sammut and Dion Conroy into the game to shore up a defence that had been under considerable duress and it helped take the sting out of the game at a key point in proceedings. Having twice surrendered leads in the last meeting between the two a fortnight ago, Chelsea weren’t about to let it happen again and with three minutes left Abraham got in on the act for the 20th time this season, applying the simplest of close-range finishes after excellent work on the right by Palmer and then Dabo.
It wasn’t over there though as he continued to display his relentless hunger for goalscoring by grabbing another in stoppage time, jinking past Walker-Peters and Amos before finding the bottom corner. The win sees the Blues become the first confirmed Semi Finalist; they’ll be joined by the winners of the Benfica vs Porto, Sunderland vs PSV and Villarreal vs Athletic Bilbao ties for single-legged clashes in England in February.
Tottenham Hotspur: Glover, Walker-Peters, J.Pritchard (Oduwa 74), Lesniak (Goddard 63), Maghoma, Veljkovic (c), Sonupe, Amos, Miller, Walkes, Georgiou.
Subs not Used: Voss, Paul
Goal: Walkes ’53, Miller ‘71
Chelsea: Collins, Dabo (c), Aina, Clarke-Salter, Wright, Houghton (Sammut 74), Wakefield (Conroy 80), Quintero (Scott 69), Abraham, Palmer, Mitchell
Subs not Used: Ugbo, Baxter, J.Dasilva
Goals: Mitchell ‘6, Palmer ’10, Aina ’36, Abraham ’87, ‘90