Our development squad reached the semi-finals in the Checkatrade Trophy following an outstanding performance and well-deserved victory against League One opposition at Stamford Bridge.
A quick start in west London saw the hosts race into a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes through goals from Harvey St Clair and Daishawn Redan before Juan Castillo added a third midway through the second period. It was an emphatic scoreline but one thoroughly deserved following another excellent display in this senior competition.
Joe Edwards made three changes from the dramatic victory at Fratton Park in the last round earlier this month as Reece James returned from injury, while the Dutch duo Castillo and Redan came into the starting team.
Charly Musonda, scorer of both goals in Portsmouth, remained on duty with the first team ahead of the Carabao Cup semi-final at Arsenal 24 hours later so missed out, wiyh Josh Grant and Jacob Maddox dropping to the bench.
There was also a change in system as the Blues opted to switch 4-2-3-1 for 3-4-2-1, though Marcin Bulka remained in goal and Dujon Sterling, Ethan Ampadu and Trevoh Chalobah retained their spots in the back-line. James returned in the back three, with Sterling and Castillo operating as wing-backs. Kyle Scott partnered skipper Ruben Sammut in central midfield, with St Clair and Callum Hudson-Odoi supporting Redan up front.
The visitors fashioned the first sight at goal after an even opening to proceedings as Ryan Ledson stole the ball from Hudson-Odoi midway through the Chelsea half and fed it to Gino van Kessell, who bore down on Bulka’s goal but was thwarted by an excellent block from the sliding Chalobah.
A precious early advantage was secured with just 10 minutes played as Hudson-Odoi carried the home side’s threat with a direct run at the defence before finding Redan with a clever forward pass. The striker’s effort was palmed away by Simon Eastwood in the Oxford goal but the rebound fell kindly for St Clair, who guided the loose ball into the back of the net.
St Clair was booed by the travelling fans for his celebrations but buoyed by the goal and confidently shifted inside on to his preferred low foot to fire low at goal moments later, his drive pushed behind by Eastwood.
Edwards highlighted in the build-up to the contest the challenges that participating in the senior Checkatrade Trophy competition had handed his youngsters, primary of which was the direct nature of the opposition in getting the ball forward. However, as at Portsmouth, Bulka marshalled his 18-yard box, while Ampadu and Chalobah performed well in the air.
Oxford did create a presentable opportunity of their own as Ricardo Silva’s inswinging free-kick found Aaron Martin unmarked 10 yards out but the defender’s header was aimed straight at our Polish keeper.
Our development squad doubled their lead after 16 minutes as Hudson-Odoi once again acted as chief creator. The forward drove at the heart of the Oxford defence before sliding a pass forward for Redan, whose impressive finish was rifled high into the roof of the net. It was the 16-year-old’s eighth goal in his debut season in England.
The Blues were solid at the back and dangerous going forward, with St Clair close to adding a third before the half-hour mark. Set clear by Redan after an excellent touch from the striker, the Scottish youth international thumped a swerving effort towards the near post and Eastwood reacted quickly to claw the ball away.
Oxford tried to work themselves back into the tie but struggled for joy in the final third and it was Chelsea who might have scored again before the break. The combination of Redan and St Clair worked well to play the latter in down the right, though the 19-year-old opted to shoot rather than use Hudson-Odoi in the middle and Eastwood made another impressive, crucial save.
The visitors restarted brightly and enjoyed their most dominant period of the evening for 15 minutes at the start of the second half. Josh Ruffels dragged a shot wide before Isaac Buckley-Ricketts, a familiar foe from our previous FA Youth Cup meetings with Manchester City, went significantly closer with a bending low shot that came back off the post.
Ledson then fired over and Ruffels forced a stretching save from Bulka as the Blues faced their first prolonged period of defensive work. Yet the League One side’s resurgence was short-lived and well contained by Edwards’s side. Down the other end, Redan spurned a glorious headed opportunity after Castillo’s perfect cross from the left before Hudson-Odoi embarked on a typical mazy dribble forward, though his final shot lacked the power or accuracy to trouble Eastwood.
The quarter-final was effectively finished with 25 minutes remaining as we netted a third. Castillo picked up possession on the left and drifted infield before curling a super right-footed effort into the far corner.
The U’s were deflated and the Blues delighted. Silva fired a free-kick a whisker wide of Bulka’s upright but that was the closest the visitors came to smearing Bulka’s clean sheet, our second in the competition this term. Our youngsters are now just one game away from a trip to Wembley, with the semi-final draw scheduled to take place this Thursday.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Marcin Bulka; Dujon Sterling, Reece James (Josh Grant 72), Ethan Ampadu, Trevoh Chalobah, Juan Castillo; Kyle Scott, Ruben Sammut (c); Harvey St Clair (Isaac Christie-Davies 82), Callum Hudson-Odoi; Daishawn Redan (Jacob Maddox 66)
Unused subs Jamie Cumming, Kylian Hazard, Joseph Colley, Luke McCormick
Scorers St Clair 10; Redan 16; Castillo 66
Booked Sammut 90
Oxford United Simon Eastwood, Dwight Tiendalli, Aaron Martin, Ryan Ledson, Josh Ruffels, Jon Obika (Agon Mehmeti 77), Ricardo Silva, Charlie Raglan, Jon Mousinho (c), Isaac Buckley-Ricketts, Gino van Kessell (Malachi Napa 66)
Unused subs Mike Williamson, Scott Shearer, James Henry, Xemi Fernandez, Josh Ashby
Booked Silva 4; Ledson 9; Raglan 37
Referee John Brooks