The young Blues secured their place in the semi-finals of the Youth Cup with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Derby County at Pride Park. An early Lewis Baker penalty and a late Alex Kiwomya winner, either side of Mason Bennett’s leveller on the hour mark, saw Adi Viveash’s side secure a two-legged last-four tie against either Hull City or Liverpool.
Nathan Ake returned to the Youth Cup fold for Adi Viveash’s side to slot in alongside familiar partner Alex Davey at the heart of the Blues defence, with Adam Nditi and Andreas Christensen continuing at left and right back respectively, in front of Mitchell Beeney between the sticks.
Lewis Baker skippered the side from midfield, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and John Swift alongside him, while Reece Mitchell led the line in front of Jeremie Boga and Alex Kiwomya on the flanks.
Islam Feruz was unavailable for selection.
With the home side going into the game following a run of seven games without defeat in league and cup, it was important not to let them get into their stride early on.
Ake, fresh from his recent involvement with the first team, showed the first sign of real quality in the game, playing a delightful ball into the path of Nditi, only for the Blues left-back to lose his footing as he shaped to cross.
We should have been in front as early as the sixth minute after some great work down the right-hand side by John Swift, whose cross ran perfectly into the path of Lewis Baker. The skipper controlled it with his first touch, but with only the goalkeeper to beat fired straight at his feet.
The hosts were enjoying plenty of possession during the opening exchanges but it was Chelsea enjoying the better chances, and moments later Jeremie Boga went close with a dipping effort after some neat footwork allowed him to advance beyond his marker.
We were threatening every time we pushed forward, and in the 14thminute Reece Mitchell took advantage of a defensive lapse, and was awarded a penalty after rounding Ross Etheridge and being brought down.
Baker was the man entrusted with taking the kick, and the skipper fired us into the lead with a well-taken spot-kick, his second of the FA Youth Cup campaign.
Mitchell received prolonged treatment in the aftermath of winning the penalty but was unable to continue and Viveash replaced him with Fankaty Dabo, in a move that required a slight tweaking of positions. Kimonya moved central to lead the attacking line, with Dabo supporting from the right flank.
The hosts were setting the tone with some hard-hitting challenges in midfield, though it was a free kick opportunity that Jamie Hanson bent just over Beeney’s bar, after a foul on the edge of the box by Davey, that was the game’s next action.
Kiwomya then had a few decent opportunities to punctuate what had been rather a quiet spell for the visitors since taking the lead. Initially he poked a chance just past the far post after good build-up play between Boga and Baker, before the former expertly teed him up with a deft turn and flick, though Etheridge kept out the shot right at him.
As the interval loomed it was Kiwomya threatening again, this time with his pace down the left as he led a quick Chelsea break, though after cutting inside his final effort was comfortable for Etheridge.
Yet it was almost a Derby equaliser in stoppage time of the first half as Bennett rose to head a centre from the right flank onto Beeney’s post, with the keeper beaten. It was a let-off for the visitors, coming so soon before the break, and allowed them to go in at the interval with their slender advantage intact.
Viveash was forced to make another change at half time, sending on Dion Conroy for the injured Christensen, who seemed to take a heavy knock moments before the break. Derby started the second period brightly, with Rhys Sharpe testing Beeney with the first minute of the restart, although the Blues stopper was down well to get his body behind the ball.
At the other end Nditi, now playing further forward as a result of the reshuffle that saw Dabo drop to right back and Aké move to the left of defence, blazed an effort over the bar.
With the majority of a 4,188 home crowd roaring them on, the hosts grabbed an equaliser on the hour mark. Bennett stole possession from Dabo down the Derby left and his driven delivery looped off the unfortunate intervening Davey and over Beeney into the back of the net.
It was a rather fortuitous leveller, though Dales rattled the crossbar just a couple of minutes later to send a further warning sign to Chelsea as the young Rams enjoyed their best spell of the game. The Blues did a good job of absorbing the pressure from the home side, however, with the centre-back pairing of Davey and Conroy defending resolutely.
Nditi had another decent opportunity that was well blocked after promising interplay between the defender and Loftus-Cheek, while Kiwomya was proving to be a real menace on the counter-attack with his pace in behind. As the game ticked towards the possibility of extra-time it was the speedy striker who got in behind the Derby defence and beat the offside trap, though his contact wasn’t strong enough to beat the onrushing yet stranded Eldridge.
Bennett then had a great chance to win the game as he powered into the box with the play building down the right, though he got minimal contact on the header and should have done better to test Beeney from a promising position in the box.
It was Viveash’s boys breathing another sigh of relief shortly after as Dales capitalised on some loose play between defenders at the back and headed directly towards goal, though the excellent Davey made a very good tackle to thwart the danger.
That was to be a game-changing moment as Chelsea raced up the other end to grab the winner. Kiwomya worked a couple of yards over the covering defender and rifled a brilliant effort down low into the corner of Etheridge’s goal.
There was time right at the death for Boga to hit the top of Etheridge’s crossbar with a deflected effort and for the hosts to return the favour, with Hanson’s swinging free kick rebounding off Beeney’s woodwork with practically the last kick of the game.
The young Blues had hung on and progressed from a very tricky, hard-fought contest in the Midlands to move one step closer to defending their Cup crown.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Mitchell Beeney; Andreas Christensen (Dion Conroy h/t), Nathan Ake, Alex Davey, Adam Nditi; Ruben Loftus-Cheek, John Swift (Charlie Colkett 68); Alex Kiwomya, Lewis Baker (c), Jeremie Boga; Reece Mitchell (Fankaty Dabo 18).
Unused substitutes: Ben Killip, Isak Ssewankambo.