Under-18s: Stoke City 2-1 Chelsea (AET)

Chelsea’s young guns fell at the Semi Final hurdle of this season’s Under-18 Premier League Cup after it took Extra Time away to Stoke City to see off their spirited challenge.

Not only were they up against the most physically imposing opposition they’ve faced all season, they did it with their youngest squad of the campaign, and in some of the most miserable weather conditions. Not that they’ll line up behind excuses; Stoke were very worthy victors and ought to have been more comprehensive winners.

Only Marcel Lewis of the outfielders retained his place from Monday’s FA Youth Cup mauling of Wolves at Aldershot, in a demonstration not only of the depth available to manager Ed Brand, but also to trusting those that had helped them get this far in a competition that has afforded the academy a chance to distribute playing time around in a more equitable fashion.

That meant starts for schoolboys Charlie Webster and Harvey Vale, and appearances from the bench for fellow Under-16s Luke Badley-Morgan and Jude Soonsup-Bell, the latter making his competitive debut at this level. It meant no Lewis Bate, Xavier Simons or Valentino Livramento, all integral to the team’s overall success this season, while the likes of Armando Broja, Dynel Simeu, Tino Anjorin and Levi Colwill have already been lost to greater challenges.

So this was the team tasked with taking on a formidable Stoke team at full-strength on their own patch, and they started superbly, taking the lead with just seven minutes on the clock. Webster won possession back well on the halfway line before spinning the ball down the line to Myles Peart-Harris. He in turn squared past the advancing Nathan Broome in goal, giving George Nunn the simple task of finding the empty net.

It was, generally, as it good as it got though. Stoke fought back and quickly asserted themselves as the stronger, quicker and hungrier team, and made life hard for a Chelsea side all too keen to make sloppy mistakes. The BeNeLux duo in attack for the hosts posed numerous problems and it wasn’t long before Mohamed Sankoh (Netherlands) and Andre Godfrinne (Belgium) started to find success against the Blues’ back three.

Indeed, the big boy Godfrinne should have had the Potters on terms long before they eventually were, but he couldn’t connect with Adam Porter’s inviting cross, while it took Jake Askew to keep out Porter himself as well as Sankoh as the pressure mounted. It inevitably told seven minutes before half time when a fortuitous break of the ball fell for Sankoh, who remained composed enough to go around Askew and tuck home from a tight angle.

Born in October 2003, it almost defied belief that the Stoke scorer is still a club Under-16 himself, but he would go on to prove a real handful in a second half almost entirely dominated by the home team. They served quick notice after the restart when Godfrinne managed to miss an open goal, a chance created by Sankoh, who then worked Askew again himself.

Godfrinne would twice be denied by the woodwork with two very different efforts, while also forcing Askew to make a pair of his best saves yet, as Chelsea were eventually forced into changes. The two schoolboy newcomers were introduced in a change of shape; out went the 3-4-3, in came the 4-2-3-1 and, when Ben Elliott replaced the tiring Peart-Harris, it meant Lewis was asked to play deeper in the midfield pivot with Bashir Humphreys having already dropped into centre half.

The changes stemmed the tide somewhat, reducing Stoke to set piece chances which Askew was on top of, and there was even a stoppage time opportunity for Chelsea to seal the deal. Ignoring his manager’s calls for him to sit back during a rare break forward, Lewis edged cleverly into a pocket of space and picked up the ball promisingly, only to turn and drag his shot wide.

And so to extra time where, surely, it was a battle of which team had the legs to get over the line. Stoke, having not made a substitution until that point, had the advantage in that regard and thought they were ahead early in the additional period only to discover that Lewis Macari had dribbled out of play before playing Sankoh in.

Sankoh eventually got his and Stoke’s deserved second when he reacted fastest to the loosest of loose balls in the box to both get there first and produce a top finish past Askew, two moments of quality that were required to see Chelsea off. From there, it was all about the visitors throwing caution to the wind, and whether Stoke could add gloss to the scoreline from the chances they left open as a result.

Sankoh was again denied his hat-trick, this time by the offside flag, and Godfrinne rather hilariously skied his final try into the car park behind the goal, while Chelsea toiled to give it one last hurrah. Vale and Elliott had moments of promise, and there was a penalty appeal that fell on deaf ears when Elliott was pulled to the ground in the box, but they came up that little bit short at the death.

Stoke will now face Manchester City in the Final, while Chelsea will regroup ahead of Friday’s league match against Brighton under the floodlights at Cobham.

Stoke City: Broome, Coates, E.Jones, Malone (Taylor 112),Akandji, Macari, R.Jones (Varian 100), Porter, Sankoh, Godfrinne, Jarrett (Sparrow 103)
Subs not Used: Cooper, Verma

Goals: Sankoh 38, 104
Booked: Akandji, Godfrinne

Chelsea: Askew, Rankine, Brooking, McClelland (c), Wiggett (Badley-Morgan 65), Humphreys, Vale, Webster, Nunn (Soonsup-Bell 65), Peart-Harris (Elliott 76), Lewis
Subs not Used: Ekwah, Wady

Goal: Nunn 7
Booked: Nunn, Soonsup-Bell, Brooking