The Under-21s progressed to the league play-off final on a dramatic evening in Manchester after a 5-4 penalty shoot-out victory. Ruben Loftus-Cheek tucked home the winning spot-kick after Seko Fofana and Olivier Ntcham had efforts saved by Jamal Blackman.
Islam Feruz had given the visitors the lead after a quarter of an hour with a clever header at the back post, before Ntcham levelled the scores 13 minutes from the end with a neat finish from close range. An additional 30 minutes couldn’t separate the teams as they fought for a place in the play-off final alongside Liverpool or Manchester United, though there were chances at both ends, before the shoot-out saw the Blues edge through.
Drummy made four changes from the side that started last week’s 2-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates, with involvement in Jose Mourinho’s first team squad for Mitchell Beeney opening the door for Jamal Blackman to start in goal.
The trip to the north-west was sandwiched in between both FA Youth Cup final legs against Fulham, with the Stamford Bridge return this Monday 5 May, and 10 of those involved at Craven Cottage were in the 16-man squad at the Etihad, though Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kasey Palmer, Jordan Houghton and Bradley Collins all began on the bench.
Fankaty Dabo returned to right-back, with Ola Aina switching to the centre to partner Andreas Christensen. Adam Nditi continued at left-back and Isak Ssewankambo moved into midfield to join league top goalscorer Lewis Baker and John Swift. Islam Feruz led the line up front, supported from out wide by Izzy Brown and Charly Musonda.
The opening exchanges were even on a chilly evening in Manchester, with Feruz bringing a routine save from Ian Lawlor in the City goal after three minutes and then Blackman saving well from Jordy Hiwula as the striker escaped in behind the back four and attempted to gently lift the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper.
That open start to proceedings soon brought about the game’s first goal and it was the visitors celebrating as Feruz netted his 11th goal of the campaign. Musonda received the ball wide on the left and darted infield, riding a couple of challenges before supplying an excellent pass forward for Baker, who had sprung the offside trap. The captain rounded Lawlor and was honest in staying on his feet when clipped by the keeper. His driven cross back across the box was inviting and Feruz’s looping header nestled in the back of the net.
Patrick Vieira’s side responded strongly but it was the visitors with a big chance to double their advantage midway through the half. A mistake from Ellis Plummer saw the defender concede possession on the edge of his penalty area and Brown capitalised, though his left-footed drive flew narrowly wide.
The hosts were enjoying their brightest spell of the game thus far and Aina was forced into some resolute defending up against the lively Hiwula after Sinan Bytyqi had fed the striker on the edge of the box, while Dabo had to react quickly to deal with a dangerous ball in from the right. It was down the right flank where City were focusing their attacking intent and Bytyqi ought to have levelled the scores after Adam Drury’s low cross, though the winger could not make significant contact with the goal gaping.
Marcos Lopes fired just wide after Seko Fofana’s pass forward and Fofana then had a sight at goal himself as he sliced a shot beyond the near post at a tight angle, however Chelsea had contained the hosts well during their period of control and went in at the break with their slender lead intact.
Feruz tested Lawlor down low within a minute of the restart, though it was City who remained the side on the front foot and Blackman had to twice deny Lopes as the Sky Blues pushed for an equaliser. The winger’s first chance was the best as he escaped in behind and bore down on goal, though Blackman was out quick to make the save.
Brown and Baker combined to fashion a chance for the skipper, though his first touch when fed in clear behind was heavy and the opportunity was quickly lost. Then the same pair worked together down the right to deliver a great centre for Feruz but the striker could not quite connect to the header.
Substitute Palmer shot narrowly wide as Chelsea broke in numbers before Blackman was quick and alert to smother the ball at the feet of Fofana. Drummy introduced Jeremie Boga after an hour as the young Frenchman made his return from injury, though his involvement lasted barely seven minutes as Ruben Loftus-Cheek replaced him, with the medical staff tending to an ankle problem.
Loftus-Cheek was quickly involved in the action and came agonisingly close to grabbing a goal after 69 minutes. He rose highest to meet Baker’s corner from the right and his header beat Lawlor and appeared to be heading in, though the intervention of George Glendon on the line kept City in the game.
That moment proved even more important eight minutes later as the hosts drew level. An attack down the right had City outnumbering the defenders and the ball was worked to Olivier Ntcham eight yards out. The midfield man turned neatly and finished past Blackman from close range.
With extra time looming, both sides were pushing for a winner that would send them through to the final. Fofana’s curling effort from distance dipped inches over Blackman’s bar before the goalkeeper made a fantastic one-handed save at his near post from substitute Thierry Ambrose. The striker had scored against our youth team at Cobham last week and was looking to repeat the feat but was expertly thwarted.
Down the other end, Plummer bravely put his body on the line to divert Baker’s shot behind for a corner, while Feruz blazed wide at the back post after Baker’s header back across goal.
Baker’s free kick deflected over after 94 minutes, while the threatening Fofana shot narrowly wide from 20 yards after bursting forward at the heart of the Chelsea defence. Tired legs were having an impact as the game wore on and spaces were appearing at both ends. Nditi was forced to make a great last-ditch block from Ambrose as the City attackers outnumbered visiting defenders again.
At the end of the first period, Lopes’s left-footed drive was deflected and bounced awkwardly in front of Blackman. The goalkeeper made another important save but was unable to stop the ball squirming away and the lurking Ambrose pounced, however he was adjudged to have gone done easily looking for a penalty and was subsequently booked for the offence.
Substitute Devante Cole and then Baker fired shots over the bar after the restart, before Baker curled an effort from the edge of the box just wide after Christensen had strode out of defence with purpose. Ambrose’s shot deflected inches wide but there was nothing to separate the sides in normal play and it was left for penalties to find a winner.
The first four kicks were finished confidently, with Brown and Christensen netting for Chelsea, before Fofana’s central effort was saved by Blackman and Baker gave the visitors a 3-2 lead. Plummer, Swift and Cole then netted before Palmer’s chance to win the game was squandered. However, Ntcham’s following effort was wonderfully saved by Blackman up high and Loftus-Cheek made no mistake with the Blues’ sixth penalty to send the league winners into the final.
Drummy spoke after the game of his delight that his table-topping side had secured their place in the final and paid tribute to their physical effort after many of the players were involved earlier in the week in the Youth Cup final. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: I’m really pleased for the boys because we’ve worked all year with this group.
‘Nathan Ake has moved up to the first team but this group have stuck together. We’ve brought younger players in from Adi Viveash’s group and we’ve supported the Youth Cup which sometimes is a drain on the energy levels but we’re fully together as an Academy for that competition.
‘To play in a Youth Cup final is hard enough. The demands and the mental side of the game on the players have been enormous but it’s a good experience, especially for someone like Ola Aina who’s still a very young kid. He’s had to mark a really good player tonight and done really well.
‘City were physically strong and played a pressing game at times which we found hard but we defended to the hilt and we really wanted to win. We deserve to be in a final and hopefully now we can go on and win it having already finished first.’
Next up for the Academy is the FA Youth Cup final second leg at Stamford Bridge next Monday, 5 May. Adi Viveash’s side are looking to overturn a 3-2 first leg deficit as they search for their second Cup triumph in three years. Kick-off is at 7.45pm and tickets are available online and with the call centre, priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Tickets purchased online and with the call centre before 12noon on Wednesday 30 April will be posted out. Tickets purchased online and with the call centre after 12noon on Wednesday 30 April will remain at the box office for collection on the day of the match. Tickets will go off sale online and with the call centre on Friday 2 May and will then be sold in person at the box office until 2pm on Sunday 4 May. There will be no tickets sold after 2pm on Sunday 4 May.
Chelsea: Jamal Blackman; Fankaty Dabo (Kasey Palmer 55), Ola Aina, Andreas Christensen, Adam Nditi; Isak Ssewankambo, Lewis Baker (c), John Swift; Izzy Brown, Charly Musonda (Jeremie Boga 60) (Ruben Loftus-Cheek 67), Islam Feruz.
Unused subs: Bradley Collins, Jordan Houghton.
Scorer: Feruz 14
Manchester City: Ian Lawlor, Adam Drury, Jose Tasende, Ellis Plummer, Greg Leigh, George Glendon, Marcos Lopes (c) (Mathias Bossaerts 108), Seko Fofana, Jordy Hiwula (Thierry Ambrose 59), Olivier Ntcham, Sinan Bytyqi (Devante Cole 59)
Unused subs: Billy O’Brien, Kean Bryan
Scorer: Ntcham 77
Booking: Fofana, Ambrose