Chelsea are into the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup after a narrow but convincing victory away at Colchester.
In an entertaining encounter, Chelsea opened the scoring early but were soon pegged back, and then in front again as the goals rained in inside the opening five minutes.
First Islam Feruz went through and coolly finished before an almost immediate Colchester equaliser, when the Blues failed to deal with a Colchester corner, only for Lewis Baker to go up the other end and fire accurately into the bottom corner.
Feruz was then brought down for a penalty which Baker converted, and the competition’s holders looked home and dry, until a second-half goal for Colchester brought them back into the tie, and it needed a late save from goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney to ensure the game was won on a frosty Essex afternoon.
Chelsea’s pedigree in and dedication to this competition is well known, so there was no surprise to see Adi Viveash name the strongest possible side available, and it quickly paid off.
Inside three minutes, Feruz was released with a ball through the centre of the Colchester defence, and after winning the race with his marker he calmly slotted past the home goalkeeper and in off the post.
Colchester, who knocked the Blues out of the Youth Cup back in 2004, were not just here to make up the numbers though and hit back swiftly after a well-worked corner eventually fell at the feet of Jack Simmons, who wasted no time in smashing home from close range to level the scores.
Unbelievably, within a minute Chelsea went back in front when Baker, playing down the left flank, showed his adroitness on either foot by controlling and beating his man on his right, before hitting a low left-footed drive into the far bottom corner.
The Blues used that second goal as a platform from which to take control of the game, and gradually began to impose themselves better, slowing the tempo and improving the usage of the ball against their lower league opponents, Nathan Ake in particular rarely ceding possession while Alex Davey and Jordan Houghton looked unruffled un central defence.
Feruz and Baker both shot over before the striker earned a penalty after nicking the ball away from a Colchester defender and driving into the area where he was tripped. Baker stepped up, and coolly drove right-footed into the same corner he had found earlier, the goalkeeper getting close after guessing the right way.
From here, Chelsea’s passage into the fourth round would only rarely be in doubt.
Shortly before the interval, Reece Mitchell almost added a fourth when he struck the post after Baker and Feruz had combined to good effect, though a two-goal lead was probably fair at the halfway stage.
When the teams re-emerged, Chelsea continued to dominate and Feruz smashed an effort against the underside of the crossbar before a rare Colchester foray proved fruitful for the home side.
The right winger’s cross was bent perfectly into Sam Szmodics’s path, away from Chelsea keeper Beeney, and the U’s midfielder made no mistake from six yards to bring his side some hope.
Chelsea replicated that move down the left side, with Adam Nditi crossing wickedly for Feruz, but the striker was uncharacteristically of target as he prodded in search of his second goal, and was then denied by Conor Cable in the Colchester goal.
At the other end Macauley Bonne had an unmarked header go straight at Beeney, anywhere else and he might have levelled for the home side. Frankie Kent then headed a corner over as Chelsea for the first time came under a bit of pressure.
Viveash’s men dealt with it well though, and continued to play most of the game inside the Colchester half, constantly encouraged by the coach to keep hold of the ball against the tiring Colchester side, which had spent much of the game trying to keep up with the impressive Blues.
Colchester did have one final chance, and it brought an impressive save from Beeney low down to his right, after a Colchester winger had twisted and turned his way into the box.
It sealed an important win for the Blues as the club seeks to retain a trophy it holds dear, and put a silver lining on a poor day for the club following defeat at West Ham.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Alex Davey, Jordan Houghton, Adam Nditi; John Swift, Nathan Ake, Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Lewis Baker (c), Islam Feruz, Reece Mitchell (Conor Hunte 81).
Unused subs: Ben Killip, Isak Ssewankambo, Charlie Colkett, Tom Howard.