Our Under-18s began the defence of the FA Youth Cup with a hard-fought win at Elland Road this evening (Tuesday).
Izzy Brown converted a 20th-minute penalty after Tammy Abraham had been upended in the box but in a game packed with chances, the young Blues had to play the majority of the second period with 10 men after Bradley Collins was sent off.
The goalkeeper was dismissed for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity but the Cup holders defended strongly and Dominic Solanke grabbed a late second goal to ensure victory and book a place in the fourth round.
Five of the starters from May’s second-leg final victory over Fulham began as Joe Edwards, assistant to Adi Viveash in each of the previous three campaigns, took charge in the competition for the first time. Those starters included Stamford Bridge goalscorers Dominic Solanke and Charlie Colkett, along with defenders Jake Clarke-Salter and Jay Dasilva and midfielder Charly Musonda.
Collins started in goal behind a back four of Fikayo Tomori, Ola Aina, Clarke-Salter and Dasilva. Colkett captained the side with Musonda and Kyle Scott comprising the remainder of the midfield trio. Solanke led the line up front supported by Izzy Brown and Tammy Abraham.
It was a lively and open start on a cold night in Yorkshire as both sides carved out good opportunities to break the deadlock inside the first 10 minutes. Robbie McDaid warmed Collins’ hands with a header, before Solanke’s low shot was deflected behind following Scott’s delicate lofted pass forward to the striker.
Leeds were handed a great chance after Aina’s header back to his goalkeeper proved too weak and Piteu Crouz looked to capitalise, however Collins reacted quickly to sprint off his line and meet the danger, ultimately making a good low save to his left that pushed the ball behind.
The Blues grabbed the lead after 20 minutes and it arrived courtesy of the power and application of Abraham (pictured below) down the right flank. Receiving a driven pass wide, the forward collected the ball and drove towards goal from the touchline, shrugging off the challenge of Pearce along the way.
It appeared he had run the ball too far, however Jack Vann’s late tackle was a foul and the referee pointed to the spot. Brown stepped up from 12 yards and his powerful effort put the visitors ahead (pictured top).
The goal ensured the contest remained stretched and the hosts had a string of opportunities to level. Crouz fired over the bar before Collins made a vital stop from the home skipper Frank Mulhern after his clever forward run was picked out with an intricate pass from Adam Berry. McDaid again threatened in the air with a header at the far post that dropped narrowly wide, before Collins saved once more from Mulhern’s stinging low drive during a strong spell for Leeds.
Chelsea regained more control in the later stages of the half, but Abraham’s shot lacked the power to trouble Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the Leeds goal and then Colkett (pictured below) struck the base of the post having been afforded too much time and space on the edge of the penalty area.
There was drama within a minute of the restart as Chelsea were reduced to 10 men. A long ball over the top of the Blues backline had McDaid and Collins in a race and the striker proved quickest, beating the goalkeeper to the loose ball. The referee awarded the foul and judged it be a red card offence, despite Clarke-Salter appearing to offer some cover. Jared Thompson came off the bench to fill in between the sticks and Mulhern’s effort from the resulting free-kick proved harmless. However the Blues were faced with playing the bulk of the second period with a man down.
Thompson settled quickly and did well to deal with a series of dangerous deliveries across the face of his goal, punching clear as Mulhern prepared to head goalwards and then gathering comfortably from substitute Tyla Bell’s shot. Bell then turned provider as he fizzed a driven cross towards McDaid, though the striker just couldn’t reach with a flying header.
Edwards introduced midfielder Ruben Sammut to provide further midfield discipline and defensive protection and his side worked hard to retain their shape and keep Leeds at bay as the minutes ticked by, before a second goal on the break settled the tie for the visitors.
Palmer did brilliantly to prevent a high ball from going out of play and set the attack off. A good Colkett pass released Scott and the midfielder timed his pass perfectly to find Solanke’s run. The striker rounded Peacock-Farrell and slotted the ball beyond three covering defenders and inside the far post.
The two-goal cushion all but ended the Whites’ hope and Solanke almost grabbed a third as Palmer fashioned another opening, only for the goalkeeper to react quickly and smother the danger. The Blues held strong for the remainder of the contest and ensured the defence of their crown got off to a good start.
Joe Edwards reflected after the game on his pride at the character and endeavour shown by his players on a tough night in Yorkshire. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: ‘We never really make it easy which is why I think so many people at the club have fallen in love with this competition over the years.
‘We didn’t start as sharply as we’d have liked but after the sending off it took a lot of character and that was nice to see from the boys. I said to Brad Collins after the game that he’s made some important saves in the first half and we’re well aware we could have been really up against it if it wasn’t for those stops.
‘It was about endeavour; we knew Leeds would be direct and put balls into the box but we didn’t want to just sit off after we went down to 10 men. We kept two up top because we didn’t want to invite pressure initially but whatever tactics you employ, it’s ultimately about the hard work of the players tonight.’
Chelsea Bradley Collins; Fikayo Tomori, Ola Aina, Jake Clarke-Salter, Jay Dasilva; Charlie Colkett (c), Charly Musonda (Jared Thompson 49), Kyle Scott; Tammy Abraham (Kasey Palmer 79), Dominic Solanke, Izzy Brown (Ruben Sammut 63)
Unused subs Isaac Christie-Davies, Charlie Wakefield
Scorers Brown (pen) 20, Solanke 80
Booked Abraham, Brown, Dasilva, Colkett
Sent off Collins
Leeds Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Michael Taylor, Tom Pearce (Malik Wilks 76), Jack Vann, Liam Bennett, Isaac Assenso, Adam Berry, Tom Lyman, Robbie McDaid (Munya Mbanje 86), Frank Mulhern (c), Piteu Crouz (Tyla Bell 63)
Unused subs Ian Molloy, Jake Croft
By Sam Poplett