Chelsea are well on their way to a seventh straight FA Youth Cup Final after recording a very comfortable 3-0 win at Birmingham City in Wednesday night’s Semi Final First Leg at St Andrew’s.
Tariq Uwakwe, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Charlie Brown scored to give the away team a firm hand on proceedings heading into the return leg in SW6 six nights from tonight, and they were scarcely in trouble of ever yielding their dominant position despite not playing anywhere near their best. With 22 goals scored and none conceded in their run so far, they once again look imperious with Arsenal or Blackpool set to be the opponents in any prospective final.
Going into their record ninth consecutive last four tie in the competition, the Blues had almost a full complement of players available. Ethan Ampadu’s broken ankle has ruled him out of the remainder of the season, whilst Dujon Sterling missed out nursing a knock collected on England Under-19 duty, but everyone else was present and correct for the trip to the midlands.
Hudson-Odoi started for the first time since the end of February, when he masterminded a 6-0 Quarter Final win at Fulham, and Jody Morris made just one change from the starting eleven on that frozen night at Craven Cottage; Juan Castillo moving back to left-back and George McEachran coming into midfield, with Clinton Mola the man to drop out.
Birmingham’s intentions were perhaps clear by the fact they left 25 goals on the bench in the form of leading goalscorers Jack Concannon and Jordan Clarke, as well as the highly-rated schoolboy forward Josh Andrews, but Concannon was pressed into early action anyway as key man Odin Bailey went off with a hip injury after just four minutes. The blond-haired newcomer immediately slotted into his team’s 4-2-3-1 that was already being pushed back towards their own goal by a Chelsea side keen to make an early breakthrough.
Castillo and Tariq Lamptey were a constant threat down the flanks, the former almost finding Uwakwe before Birmingham captain Geraldo Bajrami cleared his lines, but Uwakwe wasn’t to be denied his opening goal, poking home from close range soon after following good play again by Castillo and compatriot Daishawn Redan in the inside left channel.
Redan, who has been in tremendous form and netted a hat-trick for the Development Squad at the weekend, flicked wide from Hudson-Odoi’s searching low cross, whilst Conor Gallagher scooped another off target from the edge of the area after more useful approach play. The chances kept on coming, and Redan was guilty of missing the clearest of the lot when Lamptey delivered superbly from the right, only for the header to divert curiously away from goal.
The forward’s blushes were spared from the ensuing goal kick though as a mistake at the back by the hosts opened the door for 2-0. Kane Thompson-Sommers took his eye off the ball momentarily in receiving a short pass from goalkeeper Adam Siviter, which was enough for Billy Gilmour to pounce; he fed McEachran, who unselfishly handed Hudson-Odoi a tap-in that marked the 200th goal scored under Jody Morris’ management of the Under-18s in this, his 66th game in charge.
Despite their complete territorial dominance, the visitors hadn’t matched the intensity of some of their recent efforts, and Birmingham had been able to find limited success in keeping hold of the ball. Their dedication to retaining their football principles was admirable in the face of the problems it occasionally caused them, but they did unlock the Chelsea defence close to half time, when Nick Okoro was denied by Castillo’s tackle before Jamie Cumming pushed away George Baker’s long-range try.
Chelsea didn’t find that intensity after the break either, finding themselves restricted to wayward long shots from Hudson-Odoi, and then twice from Uwakwe. Morris, seeking a change of impetus, put Brown and Tino Anjorin on from the bench, and that would pay dividends ten minutes later. McEachran stylishly received and turned with the ball in one movement to set his team on a swift counter-attack, before feeding Anjorin on the right, and his cross was tapped home by Brown for his 19th of the season.
A three-goal deficit looked to have deflated any spirit the home team had left, and chances began to fall to Chelsea with greater frequency late on. Anjorin was denied a goal for himself after Caolan Boyd-Munce just got to Hudson-Odoi’s cross ahead of him, before Marc Guehi headed wide from Reece James’ cross, whilst the home Blues were unlucky not to get on the scoresheet at the death when Concannon’s deflected effort hit the woodwork before Hudson-Odoi did the same thing at the other end.
In truth, Morris’ boys might not need to score at all in next Tuesday’s return leg, such is their control over the tie at half time, but they almost certainly will add to their tally under the lights at Stamford Bridge. Tickets remain on sale until 4pm on the day of the match itself, priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Birmingham City: Siviter, Dawes, Boyd-Munce, Thompson-Sommers (Andrews 60), Bajrami ©, Redmond, Baker, Stirk, Okoro (Clarke 81), Bailey (Concannon 4), Anderson
Subs not Used: Forrest, Landers
Booked: Dawes, Baker
Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey, James ©, Guehi, Castillo, Gallagher (Mola 78), Uwakwe (Anjorin 65), Gilmour, Redan (Brown 65), McEachran, Hudson-Odoi
Subs not Used: Lavinier, Žiger
Goals: Uwakwe ’15, Hudson-Odoi ’35, Brown ‘76