The young Blues went down to a narrow defeat at Craven Cottage in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final. An enthralling encounter was scoreless at the break, Fulham having missed a penalty, before five goals after the interval saw Moussa Dembele level after Jay Dasilva (pictured top) had put Chelsea ahead.
Emerson Hyndman then sent Fulham into the lead before Cameron Burgess extended the advantage. Substitute Charly Musonda’s late strike reduced the deficit and leaves the tie balanced intriguingly ahead of next week’s second leg.
Manager Adi Viveash made three changes from the side that started in the second leg semi-final victory over Arsenal at the Emirates, with goalkeeper Bradley Collins, defender Isak Ssewankambo and forward Izzy Brown coming into the team.
Three Under-16s started once again for the young Blues, with leading Youth Cup goalscorer Dominic Solanke leading the line up front, Jay Dasilva supporting from the left flank and Jake Clarke-Salter continuing in the centre of defence alongside Andreas Christensen. Ola Aina remained at left-back while the midfield trio of captain Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Charlie Colkett and Jordan Houghton kept their places in the middle of the field. Alex Kiwomya missed out with illness.
Fulham were unchanged from their 3-2 semi-final second leg win over Reading. Forwards Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembele have both featured for Felix Magath’s first team in recent months and went into the game with a combined 11 Youth Cup goals between them.
Chelsea started brightly and had tested Marek Rodak in the Fulham goal inside the opening two minutes. Colkett found space and time on the ball early on and his low drive was held well by the goalkeeper, before Loftus-Cheek’s left-footed strike also brought a routine stop from the Slovakian.
Chelsea were moving the ball quickly and the one-touch passing continued to create opportunities throughout the opening exchanges. Brown cut in from the right flank and his low shot was deflected off Jordan Evans with Rodak seemingly beaten, though the goalkeeper’s trailing feet as he dived made the stop.
Houghton fired wide before Fulham threatened seriously for the first time after a quarter of an hour with a couple of set-pieces. Aina diverted an inswinging free-kick from the left behind and Cameron Burgess headed the subsequent corner wide.
Christensen defended strongly against Dembele, firstly to block the striker’s shot and then to get his body in between the ball and the forward and clear the danger, before after half an hour Fulham were awarded a penalty.
Roberts proved tricky down the right and found some space in which to advance towards goal. As he prepared to shoot, the recovering Aina caught his striking foot and the referee pointed to the spot. Dembele, with seven goals in the competition this term, stepped up from 12 yards but put too much power on his attempted chip down the middle and saw his chance to put the Cottagers ahead fly over via the top of the crossbar.
Down the other end, Burgess was proving instrumental for his team as he denied Solanke’s effort on the line with Rodak beaten and then got enough contact on Houghton’s left-footed strike to divert it inches over the bar. Solanke was foiled by the goalkeeper again as both sides continued to create chances in the final minutes of the half, and Brown had a penalty shout turned down and Rodak saved from Dasilva as the sides went in level at the break.
The visitors had started the first period strongly and repeated that after the interval as Loftus-Cheek fired over after an exchange of passes with Dasilva, before Viveash’s side grabbed the breakthrough after 49 minutes.
Brown carried the ball forward dangerously from the right, running at the heart of the Fulham defence, before feeding Dasilva to the left and the schoolboy rifled a low effort beyond the dive of Rodak and into the bottom far corner for a timely first goal of his youth team career,
The lead was a deserved one on the overall balance of play and Ssewankambo almost added a second moments later as he headed just wide from Colkett’s corner from the right, before Burgess denied Houghton with a brilliant block as the midfield man struck towards goal from 15 yards
The match continued to remain open as Viveash introduced the energy of Kasey Palmer into midfield after an hour, though it turned on its head with two goals in three minutes soon after. Substitute Dean O’Halloran delivered an inviting corner from the left and Dembele powered in at the far post to head past Collins and level the scores, grabbing his eighth Youth Cup goal of the campaign in the process.
That swung the momentum in favour of the hosts and they went into the lead a couple of minutes later. A promising individual run from Emerson Hyndman fashioned a sight at goal and the midfielder’s left-footed drive beat Collins via the inside of the near post and thanks to a fortuitous deflection off the back of the blocking Christensen.
Viveash responded with two changes in quick succession as Charly Musonda replaced Solanke in attack, with Brown moving to the central striking role, and Fankaty Dabo introduced in place of Clarke-Salter, with Ssewankambo slotting alongside Christensen at centre-back. However, Fulham extended their advantage after 79 minutes as another set-piece proved Chelsea’s undoing.
A deep corner from the right flighted right across the face of goal before home skipper Liam Donnelly made contact at the back post to divert back into the danger area, and Burgess turned it home from close range.
Chelsea were stung but continued to attack and Dasilva’s low header forced Rodak to parry at the near post after Musonda’s deep cross from the right. The resulting corner reaped no immediate rewards but the visitors kept the pressure up as Loftus-Cheek fed Musonda to the left and the young Belgian manoeuvred some space before firing low and through the keeper to pull a goal back for the young Blues.
The game had swung back in Chelsea’s favour and they pushed on strongly searching for an equaliser in the final minutes. Palmer had the best chance as he brought an excellent save from Rodak down low to the goalkeeper’s right
Next up for the Academy is the final league game of the campaign for the Under-18s as they take on Tottenham at Cobham tomorrow [Tuesday] afternoon (no spectators admitted). Dermot Drummy’s Under-21s will face Manchester City away in the end-of-season playoff semi-final on Thursday.
Tickets for the second leg of the Youth Cup final at Stamford Bridge next Monday, 5 May, are available now, priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions. Tickets purchased online and with the call centre before 12 noon on Wednesday 30 April will be posted out. Tickets purchased online and with the call centre after 12 noon 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 at 12 noon 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 Bradley Collins; Isak Ssewankambo, Andreas Christensen, Jake Clarke-Salter (Fankaty Dabo 78), Ola Aina; Jordan Houghton (Kasey Palmer 59), Charlie Colkett, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (c); Izzy Brown, Dominic Solanke (Charly Musonda 73), Jay Dasilva.
Unused subs Kyle Scott, Ruben Sammut
Scorers Dasilva 49, Musonda 83
Booked Aina, Ssewankambo
Fulham Marek Rodak, Ryheem Sheckleford, Jordan Evans (Noe Baba 86), Liam Donnelly (c), Cameron Burgess, Solomon Sambou, Josh Smile (Dean O’Halloran 63), Emerson Hyndman, Moussa Dembele, Patrick Roberts (Joshua Walker 90+3), George Williams
Unused subs Magnus Norman, Aaron Redford
Scorers Dembele 69, Hyndman 71, Burgess 79
By Sam Poplett