In the end, it wasn’t to be. At the final hurdle of a dramatic and improbable FA Youth Cup run, Chelsea fell to a 3-1 defeat in front of nearly 20,000 fans at the City of Manchester Stadium as the hosts secured their first competition win in 21 years, and ensured Chelsea’s extends another year.
After the first leg at Stamford Bridge finished 1-1, the return leg was keenly anticipated and but for one change, both teams lined up as they did a fortnight prior. The change though was notable, with City’s Daniel Sturridge missing out, replaced by the lively goalscoring Slovakian striker Robbie Mak. Chelsea had no injury worries and would be looking to Cup run heroes Gael Kakuta and Miroslav Stoch to produce, as well as the potential of Adam Phillip off the bench.
The visitors, in the startling neon away kit, started much the better, as first Stoch sent a testing 25 yard shot towards Hartley and then nearly got on the end of a Tejera through ball, both inside the first five minutes. It took just a minute more for the goal to come though. Mellis broke through the centre of the midfield to great effect, and worked a shot inside the box. Hartley saved well but the ball rebounded up onto the head of left-back Ryan McGivern, and the Northern Irish youngster could only watch on in agony as the ball bounced into the empty net.
The hosts should have levelled a few minutes later, but Chelsea were let off the hook. Donal McDermott played a ball through the heart of the defence and gave David Ball a clear one on one, but his attempt was poor and Rhys Taylor saved comfortably. Back down the other end, and Stoch attempted to whip a 35 yard free kick from out wide into the near post but saw the attempt fall wide. A minute later, his compatriot Mak dribbled inside from the left and hit a strong shot from the edge of the box which Taylor saved neatly.
The breathless pace of the game wasn’t letting up, with both teams surging forward in numbers. Chelsea went close twice again in close succession, Nielsen first not finding the room to turn from Kakuta’s blind pass, then Tejera driving high over the bar after Hartley made a mess of clearing a corner. On 23 minutes, Man City had their best moment of the match, Vladimir Weiss laying off a shot for Andrew Tutte, who hit his 25 yard attempt well, but Rhys Taylor was spectacularly equal to it, tipping it over the bar.
Weiss began to have a real influence on the game, moving from the right to the left where he could attack Chelsea’s captain Ofori-Twumasi. From the following corner, they equalised. The ball wasn’t cleared well by Chelsea, and was eventually spread out to the City right wing. Tutte’s deep cross was pinpoint for the unmarked captain Ben Mee to head back across Taylor and into the back of the net.
It was possibly slightly against the run of play at that point in the game but over the next 20 minutes it was the least they deserved, as City took control and Chelsea struggled to cope with their play, especially the direct dribbling of Weiss. McDermott should have done better from the edge of the area before Ofori-Twumasi was booked for hacking down Weiss in a dangerous position with ten minutes remaining in the half.
The foul was to prove crucial, as Weiss displayed his full range of wizardry by curling the free kick into the top corner. Taylor took a step to his right, Weiss saw it and curled it into his left hand corner, the Welsh stopper not able to get back over. The home team were well on top and well worth their lead, and although Kakuta and Mellis had half chances before the break, Mak went closest to another goal, curling high and wide with his left foot.
No changes were made at half time, but despite Chelsea needing to come out more positive, they once again struggled to cope with the tempo set by Man City. Tejera worked a nice chance on the counter attack but was forced onto his weaker right foot and sent an arrowing shot a few feet wide. Ten minutes without any success and Paul Clement made his first change, removing the ineffectual Nielsen for the lively Phillip, looking to his Youth Cup hero one last time.
It almost paid immediate dividends, as once again on the break Chelsea worked out a chance, Tejera and Phillip exchanging passes before Phillip slipped as he hit a left-footed shot wide. He appealed for a penalty, and whilst there was contact, it was negligible and not a foul. City captain Ben Mee was booked for chopping down Kakuta earlier in the move, referee Peter Walton playing a sensible advantage.
With Manchester City legs tiring, Chelsea’s superior fitness showed a little more and they took over the dominance of possession, trying to break them down any way possible. Nouble was thrown on for Gordon, who had a torrid night, and defending was sacrificed. Nouble made an impact right away, sending in two dangerous crosses from the right towards Phillip, but both times he was half a second away from beating Hartley to the ball.
With ten minutes remaining, the big chance fell Chelsea’s way. Phillip and Mellis linked well on the edge of the area and both had space to shoot. Unfortunately, neither wanted to and preferred the pass to the other, and their hesitancy cost them as the ball was scrambled clear. Pushing forward ever more, Clement’s boys ran the risk of being caught on the break, and with three minutes remaining were made to pay.
A Chelsea corner was cleared by Ball towards Weiss, and minutes after being treated for cramp, he found a second wind and took off. Tejera, much the slower player, showed great heart in getting back alongside him, but in trying to win the ball he fouled his man in the area for a clear penalty, and a yellow card. Ball kept his cool to send Taylor the wrong way and seal the Cup for City.
The game finished on a sour and disappointing note, as Mellis, wound up by a decision not to award Phillip a penalty, collided late with Kieran Trippier and was sent off. It was more of a collision than a studs-raised dangerous tackle but the intent to collide was there and the red was justified. Trippier, unfortunately, appeared to suffer a serious injury to his right leg, and missed out on the trophy lifting ceremony.
Chelsea can be incredibly proud of their run to the final, with a team ultimately losing out to an older and better team. Just under half of this squad will be back to attempt to win it next season. On the night, Tejera was outstanding in central midfield, with Woods, Stoch, Kakuta, Bruma and van Aanholt doing well. Nielsen, Gordon and Ofori-Twumasi will be disappointed with their performances. In the end, they lost to a better team, but can hold their heads high.
Team: Taylor, Ofori-Twumasi ©, Bruma, van Aanholt, Gordon (Nouble 73), Woods, Tejera, Mellis, Stoch, Kakuta, Nielsen (Phillip 55)
Goals: McGivern own goal 6
Booked: Ofori-Twumasi 34, Tejera 86
Sent Off: Mellis 90