CUP DREAMS DIE AT ANFIELD

By Philip Rolfe
Feb 5th, 2009

For the second time this week, Chelsea’s hopes and dreams went up in smoke. Whereas Sunday saw a massive hit on the first team’s title chances, midweek saw the youth team eliminated from the FA Youth Cup for the third time this decade at the hands of Liverpool. A lone David Amoo goal in the first half was enough to see the Reds through into the Quarter Finals, where they will face Bolton.

Dermott Drummy, in his first match in charge as official Under 18 Manager (after serving as Interim Manager), kept faith with the starting eleven from the previous two rounds, meaning Gael Kakuta paired with Jacob Mellis in an attacking midfield behind a dangerous front three of Frank Nouble, Jacopo Sala, and Fabio Borini. Hughie McAuley’s hosts led with Lauri Dalla Valle and Nathan Ecclestone, flanked by Thomas Ince and David Amoo.

It took 39 seconds for Liverpool to carve out the first opening, which was to become indicative of the night ahead for the young Blues. Ince, up against his namesake (but no relation) Rohan in the Chelsea back line, slipped a pass inside for Adam Pepper, but he could only drag an effort wide of the Kop end goal. A few minutes later Dalla Valle had a similar chance, which he again didn’t catch so well, but it worried Niclas Heimann enough for him to tip it wide for a corner.

Liverpool were having the better of the very early going but the first clear cut chance fell to Chelsea in the twelfth minute. Mellis played a nice blind pass to Borini on the edge of the box, but his shot was blocked by home captain Joe Kennedy. The rebound fell to Daniel Philliskirk, who will be disappointed with putting his effort wide.

A growing theme early in the first half which was to continue almost unabated until half time was the success Amoo was having against Ben Gordon. Perhaps short on technical ability but lightning fast and strong, the former Millwall schoolboy was flying past Chelsea’s left back with ease. Had he a better end product Chelsea would’ve been worried far more than they had been. As it transpired, Amoo was to open the scoring with his head just short of midway through the opening gambit.

Ince swung a corner in which Heimann dealt with well enough. It continued to the far post where Pepper collected and returned the cross. Deflected high up in the air, the tall Amoo had a favourable situation against Philliskirk and flicked a six-yard header past Heimann for the opening, and indeed only, goal of the night. It was reward for a bright opening by both player and team, and left Chelsea with a mountain to climb.

It was almost Everest minutes later, when Jeffrey Bruma acted far too casually in sweeping up a loose ball and succeeded in allowing Amoo in on goal. Fortunately for the Dutch defender the aforementioned lack of technical nous meant Amoo crashed his shot wide. In an attempt to atone for his error, the next time the centre-back got the ball he strolled forward to the edge of the Liverpool area, and curled a left-footed shot low which was well saved by Bouzanis.

It signalled Chelsea’s best spell of the game. Philliskirk began to get the ball moving, Kakuta got involved, and there was a threat down both flanks. Borini had a header wide which he rose fantastically well for, and Philliskirk drove a fierce shot down the throat of the goalkeeper, who at times looked shaky, especially with his handling.

Closing on half-time, Sala curled a free kick high and wide, before Nouble’s brilliant cross found Kakuta open on the penalty spot. Unfortunately it was just too high for the Frenchman, and an attempted overhead kick was fluffed. Amoo was still causing Gordon problems at the other end, and that combined with the injury the Yorkshireman was carrying led to his withdrawal just before the break. It meant a tactical re-jig, with Nikki Ahmed shifting to left-back, Jacopo Sala going to right back, and sub Adam Phillip up on the wing.

After some words from coach Drummy at the break, Chelsea re-surfaced looking fresher but still struggling to break down a resolute Liverpool defence. Ecclestone had a snap-shot for the hosts wide of the far post which never really worried Heimann. As the clock ticked to the hour, the Blues had their best moment of the night, but like so many previous Anfield visits, were to be denied by an official.

Sala’s corner was cleared to the edge of the area, where Borini oddly found himself. He crashed a fierce effort which Bouzanis could once more only parry, this time into the path of Kakuta, who tapped in what he believed to be the equaliser. However, from Borini’s shot, he was in an offside position, and was correctly called and the goal disallowed.

Instead of it acting as hope to get back into the game, it flattened Chelsea’s resolve, and Liverpool themselves had a more contentious goal ruled out, Amoo’s header finding a debatably offside Dalla Valle as he hooked an impressive effort past Heimann. The game became rather stretched and broken down in midfield, allowing Rohan Ince to skip past two challenges then realise he was in the glare of the Kop, and panicking, struck a shot well wide.

Chelsea changes followed, Conor Clifford’s enthusiasm replacing the ineffective Mellis, who took a knock earlier in the game. It took the Irishman five minutes before he was booked for a crunching tackle on Stephen Irwin. With the Blues pushing forward, Liverpool’s pacy front line had them just where they wanted them, in a position to break on. Ince went close, then Amoo once more had the goal gaping for himself, but he put it wide again.

With six minutes left Marko Mitrovic was thrown on and Chelsea went for broke, but it was too late a gesture and there was a lack of enthusiasm outside of Ahmed. His cross appeared to be a simple take for Bouzanis but Borini beat him to it, out jumping a player nearly a foot taller, but for all his efforts saw the ball land on the roof of the goalnet. As the game ran into four minutes of stoppage time, Chelsea knew the game was up, Liverpool keeping the ball too easily, and the final whistle sounded the end of this year’s dream at a premature stage.

It was deserved by a resolute and well-drilled Liverpool team that may have lacked a cutting edge but controlled the midfield and with the aid of the giant Kennedy and Ayala ran a tight ship at the back. Chelsea’s forwards were all too often isolated, the midfield inadequate when needed, and only Bruma and especially Ahmed looked creditable from the outing. Attention now turns to the league, and getting players pushing on into a thinning Reserve squad.

Team: Heimann, Ahmed, Bruma, Ince (Mitrovic 84), Gordon (Phillip 44), Philliskirk (c), Mellis (Clifford 70), Kakuta, Nouble, Sala, Borini

Goals: None
Booked: Clifford

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