YOUTH CUP REPORT: CHELSEA 1 MAN UNITED 1 (AGG 3-2)
The Blue secured our place in the final of the FA Youth Cup against Blackburn Rovers, our second appearance in three years, with a 3-2 aggregate victory over Manchester United on a tense night at Stamford Bridge.
The match ended 1-1 after a second-half Lucas Piazon strike had cancelled out Jack Barmby's opener for the visitors, but it was our 2-1 win up in Manchester that proved crucial and, over the course of the two legs, it was no more than we deserved.
Chelsea manager Adi Viveash named an unchanged side from the one which won at Old Trafford, with the matchwinner Islam Feruz leading the attack, flanked by Amin Affane and Piazon. Only captain Nathaniel Chalobah, right-back Todd Kane and goalkeeper Jamal Blackman remained from the side which were eliminated at the same stage last season.
For United, Paul McGuiness made two changes to the side which started the first leg. In midfield, Joe Rothwell replaced Jack Rudge, while in attack, Sam Byrne came in for James Wilson.
The visitors came close to silencing the home crowd inside the opening minute when midfielder Rothwell chipped his effort from the edge of the box over the bar, but the Blues' response was instant, and Kane stung the hands of United keeper Jonathan Sutherland with a powerful drive from distance.
United, backed by a couple of hundred vocal followers in the lower tier of the Shed End, started brightly as they looked to level the tie, and Blackman was called upon twice in quick succession, firstly tipping a Barmby effort around the post, while a minute later he made another great stop, this time from Rothwell.
We gradually began to work ourselves into the game, largely through the industry and inventiveness of both Lewis Baker and Piazon.
Adam Nditi looked to have broken the deadlock in the 22nd minute when he produced a lovely piece of skill to get away from Liam Grimshaw inside the penalty area before firing goalwards. Sutherland appeared to have made a comfortable save, but with so much power behind the strike he couldn't hold it and the ball spilled away from him before he retrieved it just as it was about to cross the line.
As the half wore on, it was the Blues seeing more of the ball, although the visitors continued to threaten on the break, and Alex Davey made a great last-ditch intervention as Byrne attempted to latch on to a Barmby through ball.
Baker then went close for the Blues as he picked up a short corner from Piazon, only to lose his footing at the crucial moment.
Ten minutes before the break, however, the match was turned on its head, when Barmby cleverly worked himself some space on the left-hand side of the Blues penalty area before firing powerfully past Blackman to give United the lead on the night and level the tie on aggregate.
Adam Nditi became the first player to be shown a yellow card for a late lunge on Rothwell, while Ben Pearson, who had been embroiled in a running feud with Piazon, followed him shortly after as tempers began to fray before the referee blew for the interval.
Both sides emerged for the second half unchanged, and Affane, who scored the opener at Old Trafford, almost brought the Blues level with a left-footed strike that fizzed just past the post, while at the other end, Blackman made an expert point-blank stop to deny Byrne.
A sublime run by Piazon almost produced a wonder goal moments later, but after advancing beyond three defenders, the Brazilian's strike was defected behind for a corner which came to nothing.
With the Blues struggling to penetrate a solid United back-four, Viveash made the first substituition of the night, replacing Affane with Alex Kiwomya, scorer of the late winner in the quarter-final victory at Nottingham Forest.
With 20 minutes remaining, the Blues were level. Islam Feruz picked the ball up just inside the United half, before driving at the defence with pace, and as he slipped a pass into the path of Piazon, the Brazilian rifled his strike into the roof of the net to send the home supporters wild.
The goal appeared to breathe new life into the Blues, and a minute later we were almost ahead when a wonderfully crafted move involving Kane and Kiwomya culminated in Feruz crashing a strike against the bar.
United, sensing the need for fresh legs, replaced Byrne with Wilson as they searched for the goal that would level the tie on aggregate, but inevitably gaps were left open at the back, and Piazon almost put the game out of reach when he latched on to a Kane pass as the Blues broke at speed.
As the clock ticked down, the Blues attempted to take the sting out of proceedings. Viveash brought on Archange Nkumu in added time for John Swift as United threw men forward, but we managed to hold on after some resolute defending to book our place in the final.
Viveash was visibly delighted with his side's progression, and paid tribute to our second-half performance, but he warned against underestimating our opponents in the final.
'We're very pleased, it was a tough game but we just shaded it over the two legs,' he said. 'In the first half, United were well on top and our keeper's made some good saves, but we also created three really good opportunities. Barmby's a quality player and he gets a great goal, but at half-time the tie is level, so it's like playing for 45 minutes at 0-0.
'I asked my players how much desire they had to be in a Youth Cup final and I think they showed everybody, including me. It was a great goal by Piazon and we could have had more. Some of our attacking play in the second half was top-class.
'I've seen Blackburn play twice and they're a very good side, they're a big group, they've been together longer than us. They're well coached, well drilled, with some quality attacking players and it will be a very tough encounter over the two legs.'
Chelsea (4-3-3): Jamal Blackman; Todd Kane, Alex Davey, Nathan Ake, Adam Nditi; John Swift (Archange Nkumu 90+2) Nathaniel Chalobah (c), Lewis Baker; Amin Affane (Alex Kiwomya 63), Islam Feruz, Lucas Piazon.
Unused substitutes: Mitchell Beeney, Nortei Nortey, Reece Mitchell.
Scorer: Piazon 70
Booked: Nditi 43
Manchester United (4-4-2): Jonathan Sutherland; Liam Grimshaw, Luke McCullogh (c), Ben Pearson, Tyler Blackett; Jack Barmby, Nicholas Ioannou, Joe Rothwell, Gyliano Van Velzens; Sam Byrne (James Wilson 79), Mats Daehli (Jack Rudge 81).
Unused substitutes: Liam Jacob, Luke Hendrie, Charni Ekangamewe.
Scorer: Barmby 35
Booked: Pearson 44, Ioannou 90
Referee: Dean Whitestone
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