Carlsberg don’t do long weekends, but if they did…
As if ensuring Premier League safety wasn’t enough cause for celebration, the feat achieved last night by Neil Adams’ Under-18s merely underlines the current rude health of Norwich City.
For those lads to go toe-to-toe with their expensively assembled Kings Road compatriots and emerge victorious over two legs was astounding and – regardless of the contorted thoughts of some ‘experts’ – thoroughly deserved.
Despite Andy Townsend’s best efforts to persuade us that last night was merely a triumph of guts and determination over class and skill, it was no fluke. Flukes don’t tend to happen over two legs, especially those where the same team wins both games.
I’m sure statistics will show Chelsea as having had more of the possession, but so they should. Make no mistake, this Chelsea team has been assembled in mould of its first-XI; top quality players from across the world, cherry-picked at massive expense, expected to steam-roll all before them.
Except they didn’t reckon on facing central-defenders of the ilk of Harry Toffolo and Kyle McFadden; brave as lions, ready to put their bodies (and heads) on the line for the sake of the team.
They didn’t reckon on coming up against full-backs as tenacious and stubborn as Ben Wyatt and Cameron Norman, giving the Chelsea wide-men not an inch of space over two games.
They didn’t reckon on facing a midfield trio of Cameron McGeehan, Cameron King and Henry Randall; all energy, composure, spirit and fight.
They didn’t reckon on the pace, trickery and goalscoring prowess of the Murphy twins.
They didn’t reckon on facing a centre-forward in the mould of Grant Holt; Carlton Morris’ amazing engine, coupled with his great ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play, giving the Chelsea centre-backs 180 of the most uncomfortable minutes.
And they didn’t reckon on going eye-to-eye with a keeper as fearless and defiant as William Britt; his duel with Chelsea’s Islam Feruz ending in only one winner.
Throw into the mix the likes of Rod Young and Harvey Hodd – both of whom made brief appearances last night – Reece Hall-Johnson, scorer of that decisive penalty in the semi-final shoot-out (with a badly injured ankle) and several others who contributed to the cup-run, and you have a group of lads who have given their everything for their Norwich City.
To have emulated the class of 1982/83 – Chick Crowe, Tony Spearing, Jerry Goss, Paul Clayton, Louie Donowa et al – is an achievement in itself, but to have done so on the thirtieth anniversary of Dave Stringer’s team winning the same competition is wonderfully fitting; the class of 2042/43 with much to live up to.
As always, it’s impossible to ignore the role played by the Yellow Army – the backing given to the Under-18s being right up there with anything afforded to the first-team – with over 3000 turning a corner of Stamford Bridge into a sea of Norfolk yellow.
While the 12th man cliché is much over-used, I’m sure every one of the aforementioned lads would agree the massive support gave them an extra yard when it mattered most – notably in those energy-sapping closing minutes – with several of them actually taking to Twitter to pay their tributes.
Also worthy of note is that Chelsea took around 300 fans to Carrow Road; the Yellow Army trumping them x 10 for last night’s return leg while making a noise that rendered the efforts of 14000 West-Londoners virtually meaningless.
All in all, a truly great night for the club; one which will go down in the annals of history.
We’re told it only takes one academy player per season to make it to the first-team to make the academy structure financially viable, but I suspect we’ll be seeing a few more of the current crop leaving Chris Hughton with a decision to make in the next few years. It would certainly be a great shame if at least a couple aren’t knocking on the door fairly soon. Clarke Carlisle (ITV4’s summariser last night) was waxing lyrical about the future potential of Morris; proof indeed that ‘old-fashioned’ centre-forwards are not automatically a thing of the past.
If there is one small regret, it’s that there is no natural stage for Neil Adams and his boys to parade the cup – no end-of-season testimonials this time round – but even if it takes until pre-season to do the deed the Yellow Army will be there. I’m sure David McNally has his thinking cap on as we speak.
So… just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.
Next they’ll be telling us we’re signing one of the best young strikers in Europe…
On the Ball City
Never Mind the Danger…