A sensational effort from Jeffrey Bruma gave Chelsea’s youth team a deserved draw in the first leg of the 2009/10 FA Youth Cup Final and perhaps the nod in a tight battle ahead of next week’s second leg. Villa held a first half lead but the Blues were good value for the result and might have come out winners on another night, being denied more than once by the frame of the goal.

Dermot Drummy, predictably, kept faith with the core of the side which has progressed through the rounds to the Final, but was forced into one defensive change. Schoolboy Daniel Mills Pappoe was enforced into an absence due to a hamstring injury, meaning Rohan Ince came in to partner Jeffrey Bruma at centre-back. Meanwhile, the hosts were missing a number of key players to due long-term problems, particularly goalscoring threats Gary Gardner and Jason Lampkin, but set up in a 4-4-2 formation with Tomos Roberts and Samir Carruthers providing width for Kofi Poyser and Ryan Simmonds in attack.

In heavy rain at Villa Park, which had attracted a decent if not healthy attendance with free entry for all, Chelsea began brightly and pushed to seize an early initiative. Gokhan Tore and Aziz Deen-Conteh poured down the left flank in the opening ten minutes, testing our Durrell Berry at full-back, with the converted striker struggling to cope with the demands. Long range efforts from Conor Clifford and Kaby provided sighters with the Irishman testing Benjamin Siegrist for the first time, before the real chances began to fall.

Gokhan had the first of those, after a nice pass from Josh McEachran opened up the play down the left wing again. The ball broke inside and after some neat footwork from the Turkish Under-21 international, only a last-ditch block denied him the goal the move deserved. From the resulting corner, Marko Mitrovic flicked a header from the near post which clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over. The bright start had Chelsea firmly on top but there was no goal to reward their dominance, and it was to prove telling. Villa had only threatened with long efforts from Ebby Nelson-Addy and Carruthers, but midway through the first half took the lead against the run of play.

It came about after Ince played a sloppy back-pass towards Sam Walker without looking, and conceded an unnecessary corner. Walker cleared the ball with an impressive punch but Richard Blythe was afforded time and space to play the ball back into the danger area. The looping ball found the head of centre-back Daniel Devine, who outjumped Mitrovic and looped a header over the stranded Walker and into the back of the net.

As if stung by the goal, Chelsea looked to level the game and the woodwork was to deny them for the second time. Play from the right broke inside and from the edge of the area McEachran struck a firm left-footed effort which Siegrist could only watch as it crashed off the angle of post and bar and away to safety. The game became a little stretched and Villa could have had a second with ten minutes to go until half time when Poyser ruffled the feathers of Ince and made his way into the six yard box before being denied by Walker’s feet.

Mitrovic’s appeals for a penalty close to the break for a near-post handball were denied and not entirely convincing, and closed the half out by struggling to reach an impressive cross by Bruma when free inside the six yard box. For all their hard work and creativity, they went into the dry of the Villa Park changing rooms trailing by a goal with the tie at the quarter point.

They didn’t come out looking particularly fresh and it was Villa who had their tails up, looking to take advantage of their lead and seize the initiative of the tie whilst at home. Some tough challenges from both sides came in and referee Kevin Friend issued a yellow card to one of the Villa number, but despite their territorial advantage, Walker had nothing to do. Mind you, neither did Siegrist as the visitors were limited to speculative long-range efforts from Clifford, although some clever play from Kaby almost created an opening for Mitrovic before Williams closed the door.

As the match hit the hour mark Chelsea were presented with their best chance of the night, as goalscorer Devine slipped on the wet turf in his own area. McEachran, who had been quiet and well-shackled all-night, took over and flicked the ball past the advancing Swiss stopper to Mitrovic, who had the goal at his mercy. He hit his effort first-time from six yards but somehow managed to find the head of Berry, who was on the line defending. However, despite missing the biggest chance of the match, they were to get level three-quarters of the way through the evening and in some style.

A free kick was awarded some 25 yards from goal, slightly left of centre. Gokhan and McEachran looked interested and with good reason as both are adept from set pieces, but the chance favoured a right foot, meaning the equally capable Jeffrey Bruma looked favourite. The Dutch Under-21 defender stepped up and curled a beauty over the wall and beyond Siegrist, who may have wanted to do better with the ball travelling within reach. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular goal and his third of the Youth Cup run.

With the momentum now fully shifted Drummy’s boys poured forwards in search of a winner, and had a chance when Deen-Conteh and Sala did well to create an opening for Clifford, who saw his effort blocked. The impact of the attempt and the follow-through left him struggling to continue with a lower leg injury, and with twenty minutes left he was withdrawn and replaced by Milan Lalkovic. The Slovakian would move wide and Sala dropped deeper into midfield.

The change seemed to remove some of the energy from the match and as the match ticked towards full-time, neither side looked likely to make something happen. Villa changed up their attacking options by introducing Darius Darkin and Arsenio Halfhuid, but when they had a chance to put the ball into the box from a free kick, Berry sent a comical effort flying into the far side touchline. The pace had dropped but the game had a sense that there would be a chance coming inside the final five minutes and it came to Chelsea in the 89th minutes. McEachran laid the ball off after a cleared free kick and Sala struck a clean, crisp effort which flew past Siegrist but crashed away to safety off the post, the third time on the night the woodwork had denied the Blues.

It proved to be the last effort in anger and Kevin Friend blew time on a pulsating first leg leaving everything to play for next Tuesday, particularly with away goals not counting for double. Lots of intriguing individual battles await as the two sides become more familiar with eachother and both will feel that they have a hand on the trophy. In reality, it might prove to be that Bruma’s sensational effort to keep Chelsea on terms going into their home leg gives them the slight edge, but we’re at half time in this FA Youth Cup Final.

Team: Walker, B.Clifford, Bruma, Ince, Deen-Conteh (Sampayo 90), Kaby, C.Clifford (c) (Lalkovic 72), McEachran, Gokhan Tore, Sala, Mitrovic
Goal: Bruma ’65

Villa: Siegrist, Berry, Williams, Devine, Deeney, Blythe, Nelson-Addy, Carruthers, Roberts, Simmonds (Halfhuid 75), Poyser (Darkin 70)
Goal: Devine ’19

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