In what must go down as one of the greatest cup upsets in nearly three days, Norwich convincingly overcame the defending champions and strong favourites, Chelsea, to win the away leg of the FA Youth Cup final 3-2, and the cup itself by an aggregate score of 4-2. The home side, widely expected to win the trophy for the third time in four years, instead ceded it to a club that last won it in 1983, when Jeremy Goss was in the line-up.
Thirty years later Norwich’s success was inspired by a pair of irrepressible fleet-footed forwards with whom Chelsea simply could not cope. The intelligence and speed of their running was probably enough to bemuse the home defence, but the fact that they are identical twins surely couldn’t have helped. Between them Joshua and Jacob Murphy created two goals and scored one, and formed such a troublesome threat on the counter-attack that, with slightly more clinical finishing, the scoreline – already shocking enough to prompt tears from Chelsea’s excellent captain, Lewis Baker, after the final whistle – might have been humiliating.
For all their promise, Monday night’s victory shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee of future glory. While many future stars have made their mark on this stage – as Chelsea know more than most, having won back-to-back victories in 1960 and 1961 with teams featuring Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Terry Venables and recently-deposed record goalscorer Bobby Tambling – it is equally easy to happen upon fool’s gold. When Leeds United stormed to a 4-1 aggregate win over Manchester United in 1993 they probably thought they had it made. As it turned out their most high-profile graduates were Noel Whelan and Mark Tinkler, and it was the losers who hit the big time – David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Robbie Savage, Keith Gillespie and the Neville brothers all played.
With this match serving as an annual graduation ceremony for the latest crop of skilful youngsters it was tempting to perceive a wind of change in the Stamford Bridge air. In fact it was just wind. The players ran out to a guard of honour formed by 18 Chelsea mascots, some of them not much younger than the footballers they were welcoming, whose blue-and-white checked flags stood rigid in the keen breeze. On their way from the tunnel the combatants were each accompanied by a further mascot, making 40 mascots in total. Last night’s crowd of 17,676 – the two legs were witnessed by an aggregate crowd of 39,271 – was thus 0.23% mascot.
Chelsea had lost the away leg 1-0, but this was not expected to be much of an impediment. After all, they had lost last year’s away leg 1-0 at Blackburn but made up for it by winning 4-0 at home.
Within three minutes Norwich had 10 men back defending waves of attacks and if a Chelsea victory seemed likely then, it appeared inevitable in the 15th minute when Jeremie Boga collected Andreas Christensen’s pass, sauntered towards the edge of Norwich’s penalty area and shot low past a wrong-footed William Britt. A minute later, Ruben Loftus Cheek, an elegant central midfielder who shows all the hallmarks of having studied Frank Lampard at great length and at close quarters, was just offside as Chelsea sought another.
But in the 20th minute Norwich retook the aggregate lead, Jacob Murphy playing a short corner to his brother, who got to the byline and slammed in a low cross that Adam Nditi, one of eight veterans of last year’s final in Chelsea’s starting XI, needlessly turned into his own net at the near post.
At this stage, though, the home side looked clearly superior. Though they lacked quality in wide areas, where Alex Kiwomya, nephew of the former Ipswich and Arsenal forward Chris, and scorer of six goals in six games in the run to the final, was never more than peripheral, they were dominating the centre. In the 29th minute Baker’s excellent through-ball found Islam Feruz, but he shot wastefully wide and soon afterwards Ola Aina’s low cross flew just behind John Swift, who speared the ball high.
Then Norwich broke. This time it was Carlton Morris, their brawny centre-forward, who led the charge. He carried the ball into the penalty area and went over, fairly easily it must be said, when challenged by Ben Wyatt, who had also conceded a penalty in the first leg. It was the fourth and final foul of a gleefully innocent first half. As in the first game, the Norwich captain, Cameron McGeehan, converted.
Baker saw one shot fly just wide and another well saved early in the second half, before the game’s critical moment arrived with an hour played. With the outside of his right foot Swift curled a brilliant pass round the last defender into the path of Feruz, who tried and failed to take the ball past Britt, got it back, cut inside and then lashed wide of the near post. A goal then and Chelsea would once again have been favourites to win. Instead they were forced into a series of increasingly desperate game-chasing tactical changes, which succeeded mainly in giving the Murphys extra space to run into.
In the 76th minute Norwich broke, the Chelsea substitute left-back Kevin Wright – described in the programme as “honest and hard-working”, a worrying phrase most commonly applied to 35-year-olds who play for Aldershot – played three Norwich players onside and Jacob Murphy crossed for Joshua to score. Norwich’s fans, who had outsung the home supporters throughout, outsung them even more emphatically thereafter, undaunted by Boga’s 87th-minute consolation. Whether they will be singing these players’ names in more highfalutin fixtures in future seasons remains to be seen, but there were certainly no fools in gold last night.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010