There was a fiery welcome for the teams when they strolled out on the wet Stamford Bridge pitch on Friday night to fight the first leg of the 2018 FA Youth Cup final... and there were fireworks towards the end of the game as well, as the Blues managed to turn what might have been
There was a fiery welcome for the teams when they strolled out on the wet Stamford Bridge pitch on Friday night to fight the first leg of the 2018 FA Youth Cup final… and there were fireworks towards the end of the game as well, as the Blues managed to turn what might have been a frustrating 1-1 draw into a 3-1 victory.
It puts Chelsea’s youth players in a strong position for the second leg, at the Emirates on Monday night.
But for long spells of this intriguing match it looked as if the young Blues – so used to comfortable wins in earlier rounds of this tournament that they’ve recently made their own – might not convert chances and possession into goals.
With the bulk of the crowd transferred across to the lower tiers of the west stand, and a noisy knot of Arsenal fans in the lower Shed end, everything seemed a bit disconnected in the first half.
Jody Morris shuffled his pack and put Marc Guehi, Jon Panzo and goalie Jamie Cumming in to bat for the Blues, but with No9 Charlie Brown being uncharacteristically off-key and squandering several chances that he would normally have taken, everything looked a bit limp.
Arsenal’s U18s grew in confidence as the score remained 0-0, and in the 36th minute – completely against the run of play – scored first; Xavier Amaechi lofting a ball over Cumming and watching as it bounced into the net off the post.
Shellshocked Chelsea regrouped after the break, with Dujon Sterling on for Tariq Uwakwe up front. But the misfiring continued as George McEachran pulled his shot wide when the Blues were briefly four against two on a break.
Only the arrival, just after the hour mark, of Daishawn Redan really shifted the balance. One of his first contributions, as sub for Brown, was to race through the Arsenal defence and beat Gunners keeper Joao Virginia.
On 78 minutes the Blues then went ahead, with Guehi outjumping defenders to nod a deep cross down and in. Three minutes from time, Redan scored his second as sub Juan Castillo turned provider.
The Blues have triumphed in five of the last six Youth Cup finals, and with Callum Hudson-Odoi’s runs down the left (he was often marked by two Arsenal players – a tribute to his threat level) there is every chance that Chelsea will build on this result at the Emirates.
Arsenal’s goal at the Bridge was the first time the Blues had conceded in this FA Youth Cup campaign.