A record seventh consecutive FA Youth Cup final appearance was safely secured by our youngsters at Stamford Bridge as they continued the defence of their crown in emphatic fashion.
The Blues have sailed into another final with an aggregate score of 26-0 over six matches, the first time we’ve reached the last two without conceding since 1961. It took half an hour of a fairly one-sided contest for the hosts to break the deadlock in SW6 but Callum Hudson-Odoi’s brace, the first a brilliant free-kick and the second a trademark run and finish cutting in from the left, along with Charlie Brown’s 20th of the campaign, gave us a healthy half-time lead.
Birmingham’s woodwork was rattled on three occasions as Jody Morris’s side demonstrated graft and glitz on the big stage, with Tariq Uwakwe adding a fourth after an hour. The second half was played at the tempo of our choosing and Morris was able to make changes ahead of a weekend trip to West Ham that could seal the southern league title.
Only Manchester United’s Busby Babes have won five Youth Cup titles in a row and that is the challenge for our youngsters in the final, where they will face the winners of Arsenal versus Blackpool, which is tied at 2-2 following the first leg at Bloomfield Road.
Morris made five changes from last week’s first leg in the Midlands as he rotated his options during a hectic period of four matches in 11 days. Brown came in to lead the attack following his goal as a substitute at St Andrew’s, while Marcel Lavinier and Clinton Mola returned in defence.
Karlo Ziger replaced Jamie Cumming in goal, with captain Reece James and Tariq Lamptey joining Lavinier and Mola in the back four. Billy Gilmour formed the central midfield pairing alongside George McEachran, while Tariq Uwakwe, Tino Anjorin and Hudson-Odoi provided the forward support for Brown.
The visitors made three changes themselves as they sought a way to overturn a three-goal deficit against a side who have not lost at home in over three years, though the contest started in a similar pattern to the first leg as the Blues dominated possession and pushed for further goals.
Brown went close to opening the scoring inside five minutes after McEachran showed eagerness off the ball to steal possession, though the striker’s effort from six yards was just too high and diverted away off the crossbar.
Birmingham’s attacking forays were rare and restricted expertly by James, whose pace and power in the heart of our defence strangled any hope of an unlikely comeback from the Championship side. Down the other end, there was intricate passing in the final third but a lack of end-product preventing us from finding the breakthrough, though misfortunate was at play again when we rattled the woodwork again after 15 minutes.
Anjorin started and so nearly finished the move, the schoolboy retrieving the ball on halfway and shifting it left to Hudson-Odoi before continuing his advance forward. He collected the return with one touch and flicked it towards goal with the outside of his right boot but watched as the crossbar saved Birmingham again.
McEachran and Hudson-Odoi combined neatly to carve a way through the defence moments later but the opportunity was quickly lost as defenders closed in around them. Uwakwe then fired narrowly over the top and Anjorin headed just wide at the near post before the holders found a way through at the half-hour mark. The chance was presented with a free-kick awarded 25 yards out for a pull on Hudson-Odoi and the forward stepped up with a glint in his eye, curling the ball beautifully over the wall and into the top corner.
That gave the hosts added confidence in attack and they ended the half firmly in the ascendancy. Anjorin was denied up high by keeper Adam Siviter from a narrow angle, while Uwakwe’s header from a brilliant James delivery bounced inches wide of the near post and nestled into the side-netting rather than the back of the net.
It was 2-0 with 38 minutes on the clock as Brown continued his prolific scoring form with his seventh goal in seven appearances. The chance was fashioned by Anjorin again, the 16-year-old starting an attack from midfield and finding his striker in the box, and Brown completed the job with an emphatic left-footed finish into the bottom corner.
Birmingham gave Ziger some work to contend with on his Youth Cup debut before the break as Ryan Burke took aim from distance and his sweet strike looked to be heading for the top corner before the intervention of our Croatian keeper to pluck the rising ball from the air.
A final first half flurry ensured Morris’s men would leave the field for the interval with a commanding lead as Hudson-Odoi netted his eighth Youth Cup goal of the campaign. It was a trademark goal from the 17-year-old, who burst down the left wing before cutting infield and burying his finish brilliantly into the bottom far corner.
With a 6-0 aggregate advantage in the semi-final, there was no way back for the visitors and the Blues went close to adding another immediately after the restart. McEachran was demonstrating a full passing repertoire and he found the advanced Uwakwe with a perfect clipped ball into the box, though Mola’s header from the midfielder’s deep cross smacked the post as we were denied by the upright for a third time.
Siviter was doing everything in his power to minimise the damage for his side and the keeper held on well to Gilmour’s deflected strike from 18 yards before getting down low to finger-tip away a close-range effort from McEachran.
Yet Uwakwe soon followed his first-leg goal with another as he capped an enterprising display down the right with a goal. Hudson-Odoi this time turned supplier, driving a low cross into the box from the left all the way through to Uwakwe, who swept a finish beyond Siviter for 4-0 on the night, 7-0 on aggregate.
Hudson-Odoi was still hungry to complete his hat-trick but was thwarted by an impressive Siviter save with his right boot after another tidy exchange with Uwakwe. Our campaign clean sheet remained intact but there was a momentary scare with 20 minutes remaining as Lavinier made a last-ditch challenge in the box that promoted penalty appeals, though the referee decided against awarding a foul.
Taylor-Crossdale went closest in the final 15 minutes following his introduction, a low drive across goal dragged narrowly wide of the far post, but it mattered little to the final result as our determined defence of the Youth Cup continues in fine fashion.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Karlo Ziger; Tariq Lamptey, Marcel Lavinier, Reece James (c), Clinton Mola; George McEachran, Billy Gilmour; Tariq Uwakwe (Conor Gallagher 71), Tino Anjorin (Jon Panzo 59), Callum Hudson-Odoi; Charlie Brown (Martell Taylor-Crossdale 64)
Unused subs Marc Guehi, Jamie Cumming
Scorers Hudson-Odoi 31, 41; Brown 38; Uwakwe 63
Birmingham City Adam Siviter, Kieron Dawes, Ryan Burke (Jordan Clarke 69), Ryan Stirk, Joe Redmond, Geraldo Bajrami (c), George Baker, Caolan Boyd-Munce (Ben Forrest h/t), Josh Andrews, Jack Concannon (Kyle Hurst 58), Nick Okoro
Unused subs Lewis Landers, Ben McLean
Referee John Busby
-Additional pictures courtesy of Dan Davies and Mark Sandom
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