Chelsea reached the Quarter Finals of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in a decade as they sent a tough Leicester City team packing 3-1 in the first youth team match played at Stamford Bridge in a few years. A better-than-expected crowd saw Paul Clement’s mix of reserve regulars and first year scholars put in a professional performance the Chelsea senior team would have been proud to put in at home.
The Blues were boosted by the presence of Jacob Mellis and Gael Kakuta, both allowed to play before joining up with England and France for the Algarve Youth Tournament. Dutch duo Jeffrey Bruma and Patrick van Aanholt paired up at centre-back, whilst Nana Ofori-Twumasi captained the side as usual.
Leicester started very positively, showing the class and quality that has served them well this season. Some uncertainty in the Chelsea defence saw one or two chances prodded just wide of Rhys Taylor’s goal. But it was Chelsea who had the first moment of real note, putting the ball in the back of the net, albeit a disallowed goal. Jacob Mellis was played through neatly by Michael Woods, but was correctly called offside.
The move summed up Chelsea’s first half style, through balls from 25 yards out hitting deep runners into the area. Michael Woods and Gael Kakuta both went through in similar situations but last ditch defending rescued the Foxes. Leicester had a goal of their own disallowed for heavy pushing following a corner; again, the right decision was made.
The hosts were looking more dangerous as the half went on and on the half-hour they went ahead. Unsurprisingly the French wizard Kakuta was the creator, dancing down the left wing before supplying a dangerous ball into the six yard box, where Morten Nielsen couldn’t miss. The same combination almost made it 2-0 shortly afterwards, Kakuta sending in a more delicate cross this time which Nielsen met with a volley of extraordinary technique that flashed over the crossbar.
The Blues sensed blood and the advantage a second goal before the break would give them, and it would arrive courtesy of some poor defending. Stoch went down the right and cut what appeared to be a harmless and rather poor cross back into the area. Leicester defender O’Neil made a complete hash of his clearance, and the chance fell to Kakuta, who rifled his shot into the net at the Shed End. The goal sent the players and fans in happy, looking forward to a second half of much of the same.
However, Leicester came out fighting, and Chelsea came out asleep, still a slightly worrying trend they’ve developed this season. A nice Leicester move some five minutes into the half caused some confusion in the Chelsea defence and forward Robbie Burns stole in between Bruma and van Aanholt before burying his opportunity to score at Stamford Bridge, and in doing so gave his side hope. It caused more tension and nervousness in Chelsea’s play, at both ends of the pitch, as first Stoch and then Nielsen wasted good chances to put daylight between the teams again.
Clement made a series of changes with 20 minutes remaining, one being enforced, as Ben Gordon limped off with an injury following a fairly bad tackle. Tom Taiwo slotted into an unfamiliar right-back role and everyone else moved across one place in the back line, hardly the most ideal situation when holding onto a tight lead. King nearly levelled with a fine far post header which crashed back off the crossbar and to safety.
As Leicester piled forward, Adam Phillip was thrown on for Nielsen to give the home team a front three full of pace to use on the counter attack. And, at the death, it paid dividends as Stoch went on a 50 yard run – a largely unchallenged one – before finding a way to put the ball into the back of the net. It was reward for a night of hard work from the Slovakian, who didn’t see a lot of the ball and was up against some rather larger opponents.
Michael Woods had a very good game in the middle of the park, as did the ever-dangerous Kakuta out on the left. Nielsen put in a fine display of playing the target man role, but pretty much everyone in blue put in a performance they can be at least satisfied with. The win puts Chelsea into the last eight, where they will travel to either Port Vale or Tottenham Hotspur. For now, the FA Youth Cup dream is very much still alive.
Team: Taylor, Ofori-Twumasi ©, Bruma, van Aanholt, Gordon (Taiwo 76), Mellis (Sawyer 70), Woods, Tejera, Kakuta, Stoch, Nielsen (Phillip 83)
Goals: Nielsen 30, Kakuta 42, Stoch 90