Over 9,000 people in the North Stand at Old Trafford for the second leg of the F.A. Youth Cup semi-final against Chelsea, with United down 2-3 after the first leg at Stamford Bridge. Both teams made just one change from the first leg with Ravel Morrison displacing the unlucky Jesse Lingard in United’s midfield and Chelsea skipper Daniel Pappoe returning to the centre of defence in place of first leg double goalscorer Chalobah, who moved forward into midfield.
It was clear pretty much from the opening moments of the game that Chelsea were looking to lure United forward, then hit them on the break, Milan Lalkovic was playing on his own up front and Josh McEachran was looking to play him in at every opportunity. This combination nearly brought Chelsea an early goal with Sam Johnstone rushing out to block Lalkovic’s attempt as the Slovakian striker closed in on the left. United, as in the first leg, had started the game slowly and Chelsea were looking threatening on the break. United’s midfield hub of Tunnicliffe, Pogba and Morrison were struggling to make any real impact on the game and Blackman in the Chelsea goal had little to occupy him except the occasional backpass.
Some footballing sage or other once remarked that you need a bit of luck to win trophies and United duly got a slice after 38 minutes. I’ve been quite critical of Dutch winger Gyliano van Velzen in the past, but he looked more effective tonight and after wriggling his way past a couple of challenges on the right-hand edge of the Chelsea area, shovelled over a cross that Paul Pogba’s cushioned header laid perfectly into the path of Ravel Morrison. His shot looped up off a blocking Chelsea defender and dropped like a stone just under Blackman’s crossbar. Very reminiscent of Andreas Brehme’s deflected winner against England in the 1990 World Cup semi-final.
Just four minutes later, United increased their lead on the night to 2-0 and also went ahead on aggregate with a goal that owed nothing to luck and everything to skill. Sean McGinty, preferred to Tyler Blackett at left-back because of his aerial prowess, moved forward threateningly on the right hand edge of the Chelsea area and produced a perfect flighted cross to the far post. Blackman stayed on his line but Pappoe got underneath the ball and Will Keane rose to angle home a downward header that beat Blackman on his near post. So, at half-time, it was United 2 Chelsea 0 on the night and United 4 Chelsea 3 on aggregate.
It was to be expected that Chelsea would come back at United in the second half and they duly did just that, but United had the bit between their teeth now and the midfield became a bit of a battleground. A limping van Velzen was replaced by Tyler Blackett and with Ryan Tunnicliffe and Paul Pogba now growing in confidence and influence, Chelsea were finding it difficult to create any genuine chances. Lalkovic did force Johnstone into one good save, but at the other end, Blackman was twice tested by Tunnicliffe, who was finally finding something like his best form.
It was another driving run from Tunnicliffe that led to what was probably the decisive third United goal after 76 minutes. Tunnicliffe found Morrison on the left of the area and his pass to the left picked out the rampaging Blackett, who took the ball to the byline before producing a perfect cutback for Will Keane to bundle the ball in at the near post.
Will Keane celebrates his second goal
United were now in complete control of the game and the increasing desperation of some of the Chelsea tackling reflected their growing frustration. However, for them, things just got worse….
3-0 became 4-0 just three minutes from time when Ryan Tunnicliffe made a great interception in midfield and burst forward on another buccaneering run. With Chelsea defenders backpedalling , Tunnicliffe’s astute reverse pass set Will Keane free on the right of the penalty area. Blackman came out and although contact was minimal, it was definitely enough to deny Keane the opportunity to prod the ball into an empty net. Happily, it was of little consequence as Keane got up to slot an accurate penalty past the Chelsea keeper for his hat-trick and his 11th goal in 10 Academy starts this year.
Ryan Tunnicliffe in full flow
Of course, 4-0 sounds like a complete hammering for Chelsea, but they can probably consider themselves unfortunate to lose so heavily when the game was so evenly balanced, especially in the first half. United no doubt profited from Morrison’s return to the team and Keane’s return to fitness. Tunnicliffe and Pogba started slowly as they did in the first leg, but just as in that game, their influence grew as the game progressed. Keane will get all the plaudits for his hat-trick, but both Morrison and Tunnicliffe were hugely instrumental in securing the victory for the young Reds.
United will now play the surprise package of this year’s competition, Sheffield United, in the two-legged final. Dates for these games have yet to be announced.