Chelsea’s Under-21 side progressed to the quarter-finals of the inaugural Under-21 Premier League Cup with an impressive win in South Wales on Friday evening.
A first-half penalty from Lewis Baker set Dermot Drummy’s side on the path to victory, before an own goal and a strike from substitute Alex Kiwomya (pictured above) 10 minutes after the restart. Jeremie Boga, also off the bench, grabbed a fourth as the visitors secured a last-eight home tie against West Ham United.
Drummy made five changes from the side that started on Monday afternoon in the league trip to Newcastle, bringing Alex Davey, Adam Nditi and Daniel Pappoe back into the team. The manager had said in the build-up to the game that he would use the competition to reward certain players in his group that had struggled to make the starting 11 in recent weeks despite training well, and he honoured that by starting that trio of defenders in the back four. Isak Ssewankambo joined them at right-back, in front of Jamal Blackman in goal.
Nathan Ake moved forward into a midfield role, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek returning to the side in midfield, along with Lewis Baker. Islam Feruz continued up front, supported from out wide by John Swift and Isaiah Brown.
Chelsea settled down quickly in the Welsh capital, enjoying much of the early possession in the opening 10 minutes and working the ball around in tight areas, waiting for an opportunity to exploit the spaces. Swift had license to roam in to more central areas from the wide right, giving the visitors the advantage of an additional man in the middle at times, however it was Cardiff who peppered Blackman’s goal with a couple of early attempts from set-pieces.
First Nditi headed clear the danger from an inswinging delivery from the left before the Blues’ keeper was forced to palm behind a dangerous effort from the opposite flank as left-back Kane Owen whipped his free-kick dangerously across the face of goal.
That was a prelude to the deadlock being broken inside 15 minutes, though it was the visitors that took an early lead. Loftus-Cheek initiated a quick attack on the break, feeding Brown down the left channel with a clever pass, before the wideman was upended inside the penalty box by home captain Luke Coulson. Baker stepped up confidently and slotted the ball into the bottom right corner with exquisite precision beyond keeper Ben Wilson’s dive, netting his sixth goal of the campaign.
The young Bluebirds reacted almost immediately, and strongly, with Brad Williams forcing a good save down low from Blackman as he powered a free header at the back post towards goal. Striker Etien Velikonja then went close, firing a free kick from almost 30 yards narrowly over the bar, after Pappoe had brought down Rhys Healey as he burst towards goal.
Chelsea resisted Cardiff’s brief spell of dominance and continued to pose a threat of their own. Baker and Swift combined neatly as they advanced forward, though the latter’s attempts to find the goalscorer were cut out well by the recovering defenders. Swift then volleyed high and wide at Wilson’s goal as he latched onto a loose ball following a corner.
Ssewankambo advanced positively down the right flank, beating his man and finding Feruz in the middle, though the striker’s first-time effort was blocked well. Feruz quickly fashioned another opportunity for himself, cleverly finding space inside the box and winning a corner, from which Loftus-Cheek shot harmlessly over.
Drummy’s side were mostly in control as the remaining minutes of the half went by, though a soft free-kick conceded by Pappoe did give the Welsh side a late chance. However, Filip Kiss’s well-hit effort was fired straight into the Chelsea wall, and brought the first-half proceedings to a close with Chelsea holding a slender advantage.
The Blues started the second period strongly and had a chance to double the lead inside the first minute as a heavy back pass to keeper Wilson gave the hosts trouble. Feruz was quickly on the scene, forcing the error, though the goalkeeper managed to make amends with a strong tackle on the striker out wide.
That brought only a brief respite for Cardiff, however, and the visitors scored in bizarre circumstances just a few minutes later. A neat move saw an opening present itself for Swift and, despite the midfielder’s effort being blocked on the line, the subsequent clearance from the covering defender rebounded off the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
It had been a blistering start to the second half for the young Blues, increasing the intensity and intent to finish the game off. Feruz forced a good save from Wilson with a powerful strike, before Alex Kiwomya replaced him up front, and the substitute had an immediate impact of his own.
First he shot narrowly wide after a good move involving Baker and Ake, before racing clear in behind the Cardiff defence. He finished expertly over the onrushing Wilson to give his side a commanding three-goal lead inside 10 minutes of the restart.
In response, Healey had a good chance with a header that he couldn’t quite direct on target, while Kiss bent a decent effort straight into Blackman’s gloves. Yet Chelsea continued to pour forward in numbers and with pace that the hosts were struggling to handle, and a fourth goal for the young Blues was soon forthcoming.
Substitute Boga, who had replaced Brown moments earlier, created some space for himself after a neat exchange of passes and arrowed a low effort from outside the box into the bottom far corner, beyond the despairing dive of the goalkeeper, to give the visitors a fourth goal.
Drummy’s side continued to dictate the game, threatening constantly with Kiwomya on the shoulder of the last defender, and the interchanging trio of Baker, Swift and Boga eager to support. Kiwomya glanced a header past the far post as he looked for his second of the game, while Baker smashed a left-footed free-kick against the bar as his side looked for a fifth goal.
Down the other end, Davey and Christensen dealt comfortably with the rare Cardiff forward forays as the visiting defence looked to preserve their clean sheet. Baker saw a header fly just wide in the final moments.
Manager Drummy was disappointed with his side’s start to the game, however expressed his satisfaction in the manner they responded after the break and secured a well-deserved win.
‘We didn’t play at the right tempo in the first half,’ he told the official Chelsea website afterwards. ‘Cardiff were very organised but we gave them time to get back in shape and I was disappointed, after our performance at Newcastle, that we didn’t start better.
‘But in the second half the pace of Alex Kiwomya made a difference, against a side that press high up, and when you have players who can find him with balls forward he gives us a real threat. I thought we were assured. The result was probably fair, though some of the goals were slightly fortuitous, but we keep the winning mentality that is so important.’
Chelsea Jamal Blackman; Isak Ssewankambo, Alex Davey, Daniel Pappoe (Andreas Christensen 55), Adam Nditi; Nathan Ake (c), Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Baker; John Swift, Isaiah Brown (Jeremie Boga 63), Islam Feruz (Alex Kiwomya 50).
Unused subs Mitchell Beeney, Fankaty Dabo.
Cardiff City Ben Wilson; Luke Wilson (c), Kane Owen, Filip Kiss (Anthony Bell 79), Joshua Yorwerth; Maxi Amondarain, Theo Wharton, Rhys Healey; Brad Williams (Jaye Bowen 70), Thomas O’Sullivan, Etien Velikonja (Dane Griffiths 79)
Unused subs Liam Matthews, Thomas James.