The Under 18s of Chelsea FC came back from a half-time deficit to win a London youth derby thanks to two goals from Milan Lalkovic.
It was a dramatic evening for the healthy Stamford Bridge crowd, including first team players, to enjoy with an excellent winner coming with extra-time just around the corner.
Reminiscent of last season’s fight back in the Final, the win was reward for a 90 minutes in which the young Blues had made the bulk of the chances and were unfortunate to be trailing to an early own-goal.
The Chelsea 11 that began tonight was the one that played the second half of the win in last week’s third round tie at Sunderland, apart from one change – Josh McEachran in for Anton Rodgers.
McEachran was the furthest forward of the midfield three, Billy Clifford and George Saville (above right) operating in deeper roles and at the back, schoolboy Nathaniel Chalobah partnered captain Daniel Pappoe in central defence.
There was a huge blow to confidence with only a minute on the clock when Clifford headed the ball into his own net. An Arsenal corner, swung over from the left, eluded the big men at the near post and as it dropped, the Chelsea midfielder stooped but diverted it past Blackman who couldn’t react.
Chelsea could have levelled the scores quickly had it not been for a good one-handed stop by Arsenal keeper Emilano Martinez who performed well when these side met in the league earlier in the season.
That was from a Lalkovic strike after the centre-forward had broken clear but Chelsea looked edgy in the early stages.
Dermot Drummy’s side got their act together six minutes in when Lalkovic, who doesn’t lack for pace, took a McEachran pass on and crossed. Todd Kane in the middle unfortunately couldn’t collect the ball into his stride.
Up the other end Pappoe got his toe on the ball in a sliding tackle on Chuks Aneke that had Arsenal calling for a penalty before on 11 minutes, Clifford was denied his moment of redemption by the boot of Ignasi Miquel. The Arsenal central defender cleared a shot from under the crossbar and there was further agony for Clifford when he put the ball in the net a minute later after Blackman pushed out McEachran’s free-kick. The offside flag was up.
Chelsea were settling into the game and were looking the more dangerous. Another foot further forward and Bobby Devyne might have made something of a Lalkovic cross and very good reaction save from Martinez clawed down Pappoe’s header that was top-corner bound.
Arsenal were forced into a change midway through the first half for what unfortunately looked to be a serious leg injury to midfielder Nico Yennaris following a challenge with George Saville.
Lalkovic was inches from an equaliser after McEachran split the defence, delaying his shot before curling it wide.
Arsenal had the might up front to match Chelsea’s physically strong defence but considering their goal had come via a Chelsea head, were struggling to show a cutting edge, at least until half-time approached.
In those minutes before the break Chelsea keeper Jamal Blackman was brave and strong in saving at the feet of Afobe and Pappoe blocked out the same player who was primed to score.
Lalkovic could have made more of a counter attack after leaving his pursers for dead but he shot straight at the keeper, and then there was another Arsenal goal-line clearance as the ball was looped towards the target by Chalobah from out wide.
McEachran had shown some special touches but in space he dragged a shot wide, and then it needed a Chalobah clearance off the line to deny Afobe after Chelsea had struggled to keep hold of possession across the pitch.
Half-time arrived with Chelsea behind but not without hope given the chances of the first-half.
The equaliser, four minutes into the second half, was the product of Lalkovic’s swiftness across the turf and defending that will give nightmares to a seasoned ex-centre-back like Arsenal youth coach Steve Bould.
Shepherding a straightforward ball back to their keeper, the Gunners’ central pair looked at each other as Lalkovic nipped in and swallowed up the opportunity.
Had Philipp Prosenik not been out with a long-term injury, Lalkovic would in all probability been a winger in this game but now at centre-forward the 18-year-old was looking a genuine goal threat. Just past the hour he fired a shot in from the edge of the area that missed by only inches.
There was quarter of the game to go and only Chelsea looked like scoring. Devyne shot across the face of goal with Pappoe poised at the near post and a succession of Arsenal blocks kept the Blues out after Saville had carved through their defence with a determined run.
The Arsenal keeper saved from Aziz Deen-Conteh, on an overlapping run down the left, but then there was an escape for Chelsea when caught cold by a free-kick move. Miquel’s goalbound shot flicked wide off the legs of McEachran.
Into the last 10 minutes of normal time and tiredness was beginning to show as Chelsea players went down with cramp and spaces began to open up, but extra-time looked odds on.
Then with the clock ticking onto 90 minutes Lalkovic hit a worthy winner. Substitute Adam Nditi, still a schoolboy, excelled in opening the Gunners up on the left. His cross was taken by the Slovakian who smoothly worked the ball onto his left foot, leaving Arsenal on their heels, and finished from eight yards out.
In stoppage time Blackman towered above a crowd to catch a corner and the Chelsea youth team were into the fifth round where they will play at home to Barnsley or Rushden and Diamonds.
‘It is very pleasing and a massive result to beat an excellent side like Arsenal,’ said Chelsea youth team manager Dermot Drummy. ‘It would have been a good final and the mentality that the boys showed to come back was fantastic.
‘Milan Lalkovic was brilliant. He made things happen by turning play around and running in behind their defence, and he finished two wonderful goals. It was a good occasion with 7,000 fans at Stamford Bridge cheering us on.’
Source: Chelsea FC