Chelsea Under-18s booked themselves a place in the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals for the seventh successive season with a hard-fought victory away at AFC Wimbledon.
The young Blues went ahead after a quarter of an hour through defender Fikayo Tomori before the Dons levelled with an Alfie Egan header 20 minutes later. However, a brace from substitute Jacob Maddox and a brilliant last-minute free-kick from Mukhtar Ali sealed the holders’s safe passage to the sixth round, where they will host Reading at Stamford Bridge.
Joe Edwards made one change from the starting side that beat Manchester United 5-1 in the previous round, with captain Jake Clarke-Salter returning to the back three in place of Josh Grant. Trevoh Chalobah and Tomori joined him in a back line protecting Nathan Baxter in goal.
The midfield five were unchanged with Kyle Scott, Mason Mount and Ali operating centrally and Charlie Wakefield and Jay Dasilva at right wing-back and left wing-back respectively. Tammy Abraham and Ike Ugbo, with 38 goals between them in all competitions this season, led the line up front.
The visitors, decked out in their all-white away strip, started brightly in the Kingston rain as Ugbo forced a brave block from defender Emmanuel Mensah following Wakefield’s low cross from the right. Mount and Ugbo gave goalkeeper Jack Wingate early work to do before the home stopper clawed away Dasilva’s effort after the wideman had made progress down the left.
However, it wasn’t long before the Cup holders were celebrating an opener with 15 minutes on the clock. The chance was carved out as a free-kick from the right caused havoc in the Dons six-yard box, with Abraham unmarked at the back post to nod back across goal. Ugbo was thwarted but Tomori was not as his rifled deflected strike beat Wingate for the defender’s second goal of the campaign.
We continued to enjoy control of the game, though Wimbledon were managing to largely restrict the threat to their goal. Mount fired an optimistic effort wide from distance and Ali lashed a shot inches off-target via a slight deflection, though the hosts soon grew into the game as the half progressed.
Neset Bellikli went close with a dipping drive but it was down the left flank that the Dons were causing growing problems, with dangerous high crosses sent in to our six-yard box. Baxter punched clear on numerous occasions, though he was helpless after 35 minutes as one such punch flew high into the air and Egan, scorer of four Cup goals this season including a brace away at Newcastle in the last round, headed in to level the scores.
In front of a passionate 3,455 crowd, the game started to take on a real Cup tie feel, though Abraham might have silenced the swelling support when Wakefield delivered a perfect cross. The striker, leaning back, could only blaze over the bar from close range in the final action of note of the half.
The second half restarted in similar fashion as Baxter punched well clear from another teasing delivery, sparking a Chelsea counter-attack that was cut short after Scott’s pass for Wakefield carried too much power down the right channel.
Dasilva put Wimbledon hearts in mouths with a looping cross from the left that ricocheted away off the crossbar, before Scott brought a routine stop from Wingate with a left-footed drive from 25 yards out. Edwards introduced Jacob Maddox just before the hour mark and the young midfielder’s impact was instant as he fired us back in front within seven minutes of his entrance.
Left-winger Dasilva made progress down that flank once more, though it was Maddox picking up the ball that made the difference as the 17-year-old beat two defenders before firing into the top corner from the edge of the box, leaving the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Edwards reacted swiftly from the sidelines, switching to a 4-2-3-1 system and swapping Ugbo for Under-16 defender Dujon Sterling. In keeping with the tie, Wimbledon refused to go down without a fight and they came within a whisker of levelling as Tomori sliced a clearance inches past his own goal with everyone left simply to stand and watch.
We continued to defend our 18-yard box with conviction and settled the contest on the break with six minutes remaining. Wakefield picked up a loose ball on the edge of our box and drove 70 yards forward before teeing up Maddox to finish with confidence and skill for his seventh goal of the campaign.
Ali added a late fourth with a brilliant bending free-kick that put the gloss on the scoreline and made it 15 goals scored in three Youth Cup ties this campaign for Edwards’s side, who will host the Royals in a first-versus-second clash of the Under-18 Premier League South’s top two.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Nathan Baxter; Trevoh Chalobah, Jake Clarke-Salter (c), Fikayo Tomori; Charlie Wakefield, Kyle Scott (Ruben Sammut 79), Mason Mount (Jacob Maddox 58), Mukhtar Ali, Jay Dasilva; Tammy Abraham, Ike Ugbo (Dujon Sterling 66)
Unused subs Jared Thompson, Isaac Christie-Davies
Scorers Tomori 15; Maddox 65, 84; Ali 90+3
Booked Scott, Maddox, Sammut
AFC Wimbledon Jack Wingate, Emmanuel Mensah, David Omperon, Toby Sibbick, Paul Kalambayi, Jason Stripp (c) Jayden Antwi 77), Neset Bellikli (Reece Williams-Bowers 66), Seanan McKillop, Daniel Ano, Alfie Egan (Nathan Wood 66), Toyosi Olusanya
Unused subs Giordano Zabotti, Reece Batchelor
Scorer Egan 35
Referee D Treleaven
Additional picture supplied by Mark Sandom.