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Chelsea 3 v 2 Leeds United
FA Cup
Wednesday, 28th February 2024 Kick-off 19:30
Leeds take pride from our performance in Stamford Bridge defeat
Thursday, 29th Feb 2024 22:08 by Tim Whelan

Although our FA Cup run came to an end at the hands of Chelsea last night we go out with our heads held high after pushing their expensively-assembled side all the way, on an evening when most of our side showed they would not be out of place in the Premier League.

The evening began with the sixth round draw on ITV, and though we can say that we were in it, it seemed ridiculous to be staging the draw at a time when exactly half the ties of the previous round had yet to take place. We kicked off knowing that if we got through this tie our reward would be a home game with the recently vanquished Leicester City.

Daniel Farke made five changes for this game, though two were enforced, with Gruev out with something called a hip flexor, and Rutter with a hernia problem. We hope that neither of these key players will be out for long. Kamara, Summerville and Gnonto were all rested, while Conor Roberts made his full debut at right back to allow Archie Gray to move to midfield.

Cooper was recalled so Ampadu could also revert to midfield, while Anthony and James started on the flanks. It was a bit of a surprise that Chelsea also rested a few key players when the FA Cup is now the last competition they can win, but apparently a couple of them were feeling unwell, as well as being worn out by 120 minutes worth of League Cup final.

With the amount of money that Chelsea have spent they really ought to be at least in the top five, even without any apparent strategy as to how all these signings are supposed to fit in and operate as a team. In the midst of a stuttering season and much criticism of their failure to take their chance to beat Liverpool on Sunday, they seemed to be a bag of nerves in the early stages of this game.

First Dan James was close to putting us in front when he lifted the ball over an advancing Sanchez, which was the right idea but he didn’t quite manage to get his shot on target. But that didn’t matter, as we took the lead immediately afterwards, when Chelsea made a complete hash of playing out from the resulting goal kick.

Archie Gray pounced to catch Caicedo in possession, and when the ball ran free to Anthony he spotted Joseph free in the area. And Joseph seized the opportunity to score his first ever senior goal, hammering the ball past Sanchez and the defender on the line. Unfortunately that caused one fan to get over-excited and he fell from the top tier before being carted off to hospital. An investigation into that incident is continuing.

At that point a shock seemed distinctly possible as Leeds came forward again while Chelsea looked even more rattled, but the hosts settled their nerves with an equaliser on 15 minutes. After a neat interchange of passes on the edge of the area Madueke threaded a pass through to Jackson, and the Senegal international fired the ball through Meslier’s legs from a tight angle.

After that Chelsea threatened to take control of the game, with Sterling making some dangerous runs on the left despite the abuse he was getting from the Leeds section of the crowd. It looked like their quality was beginning to tell, but Roberts got forward at the other end to have a shot blocked. Madueke fired into the side netting after almost tripping over the ball, but Chelsea took the lead eight minutes from the break.

Like their first goal, it came from a move down their right and our left, where sadly the Firpo/Cooper combination was looking a little bit vulnerable. This time the ball was cut back for Mudryk, whose neat finish sent it past Meslier into the far corner of the net. At that point we might have expected Chelsea to take control of the game, but we kept them to a one goal lead at the break, and then shocked the hosts again with a second goal just before the hour mark.

Matteo Joseph goals are like the buses, you wait ages for one and then two come along at once. And again the Chelsea defence was suspect, with Anthony left in plenty of space to receive a long ball down the left, and the players in the centre switching off when his excellent cross curled in towards Joseph. Our man was left with time to guide his header past Sanchez into the spot he had just come from, and the tie was level.

After that it seemed quite possible that we would go on to win the game, with Gray’s reading of the game far beyond what you would expect for a 17 year-old, as he intercepted passes and got Leeds moving forward time after time. Anthony had a couple of goes at recreating his goal from the last round, but this time he was a bit off target as he tried to curl the ball into the far corner after cutting in from the left.

And Joseph could have completed a hat-trick, but for once he didn’t have time to react after Chalobah’s slip let the ball reach him, and the chance was gone. Chalobah was one of three Chelsea players booked as a few tackles went in, and although this game never came close to the excess of the 1970 final, I thought our best chance would be if they went down to ten men.

On 78 minutes it was time to get serious, and Piroe and James were withdrawn, the two players who had found it hard to get into the game and make a contribution. Gnonto and Summerville came on, with the Dutchman playing through the centre as both wings were occupied. And Pochettino also thought he needed to send his big guns onto the field, with Gallagher and Palmer coming on.

We can be proud that at least they were forced to use a couple of their best players in order to take this tie from us, but it was one of their subs who was to score the winning goal as we went into 90 minutes. Fernandez picked out Gallagher on the edge of the area, and he spun away from the four defenders around him before lifting the ball over the advancing Meslier.

But even that might not have been the end, as the four minutes announced were stretched beyond six to allow for the celebrations and a couple of substitutes. Meslier came up for the final corner, but Cooper seemed to duck underneath it, and when the ball was cleared upfield the referee was finally obliged to bring the game to an end.

And so we tasted defeat for the first time in 2024 and Chelsea could breathe a huge sigh of relief in getting through. The game will have given Daniel Farke a good idea of how well-equipped his side is for the Premier League, and after the game he spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live, saying he was "very proud" of his side's performance but that he felt Chelsea were "clinical".

“In the second half we had more possession, more shots at goal and more expected goals," he added. It was no coincidence we scored the second goal, we wanted to dominate possession in order to stick to our beliefs - many compliments to my young lads." Let’s hope that we can reach the same stage next year as an established Premier League side, and can have a proper go at the FA Cup without worrying about whether it’s a distraction from the league.


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