Chelsea's youth side kicked off what could become a historic 11-day period for the club by clinching the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 49 years with victory over Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.
With the senior side on the verge of a Premier League and FA Cup Double, the juniors produced a display of verve and invention to suggest the long-term future of the club could be as productive as the short term. With the scores level after the first leg, Chelsea's teenagers had to come from behind on the night to win thanks to a spectacular 85th-minute strike from their Irish captain Conor Clifford.
Chelsea's dismal record of producing home-grown players has been an easy stick with which to beat the club. The prospects however are looking a little brighter. Manager Carlo Ancelotti meets the club's board later this week to discuss the club's transfer targets for the summer.
The Italian has already promised to promote five young players – Gaël Kakuta, Fabio Borini, Patrick van Aanholt, Nemanja Matic and Jeffrey Bruma – into the senior squad next season, partly in response no doubt to the new Premier League rules on home-grown players which come into force in August. All five are set to start in next season's Carling Cup.
Towering Dutch defender Bruma, 18, was the only member of that quintet to feature last night as Chelsea went in search of their first FA Youth Cup since 1961, watched by John Terry, the last player to successfully graduate from the club's academy.
Bruma however did not shower himself with glory when he stood rooted to the spot as Villa took a shock lead in the 32nd minute, outjumped by visiting centre forward Kofi Poyser who headed his team in front.
Chelsea also contained 17-year-old Englishman Josh McEachran who is rated the pick of the crop at Stamford Bridge. He is to be offered professional terms in the summer and was full of nice touches as his side enjoyed the bulk of the possession but struggled to find a cutting edge.
Chelsea finally scored the goal their flowing football deserved when they pulled level after 64 minutes. McEachran released Jacopo Sala and the impressive Italian centred for Marko Mitrovic to finish astutely at the near post. The goal was reward for the persistence shown by the Swedish striker, whose header minutes earlier had been cleared off the line by Villa midfielder Tomos Roberts.
Chelsea saved the best till last. McEachran capped a fine display by stealing the ball off Samir Carruthers and passing to Clifford who dispatched the sweetest of shots past Benjamin Siegrist in the Villa goal. In the dying moments Gokhan Tore hit the woodwork with a shot that struck the bar, before referee Kevin Friend blew the whistle to spark frenzied celebrations.
Chelsea (4-4-1-1): Walker; B Clifford, Ince, Bruma, Conteh; Sala, C Clifford, Djalo, Tore (Lalkovic, 89); McEachran; Mitrovic. Substitutes not used Haxhia (gk), Saville, Sampayo, Rodgers.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Siegrist; Berry, Devine, Williams (Darkin, 72), Deeney; Carruthers, Nelson-Addy, Blythe, Roberts (Johnson, 88); Poyser, Simmonds. Substitutes not used Barrett (gk), Halfhuid, Dyer.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).Reuse content