Crystal Palace Under-15s won the Premier League Regional Floodlit Cup after a thrilling victory over London rivals - and reigning national champions - Chelsea Under-15s last night, meaning they will now compete in the Floodlit Cup national final to be crowned nationwide champions on 3 May.
In a fast, physical encounter played in front of a sizeable crowd at Aldershot's EBB Stadium, the young Eagles dug deep to repel a late charge from their opponents to lay their hands on both silverware and a shot at further glory against either Sunderland, Wigan Atheltic or Stoke City in the coming weeks.
Chelsea began the stronger of the two sides, with Sam Illing-Junior looking particularly threatening on the left with his direct, powerful running. Indeed the Blues’ main thrust all night came from the wings, but in the middle it was Palace exerting the most control.
It was from a free kick in an advanced central position that the Eagles were able to take the lead. Jadan Raymond stepped up, curling the ball beautifully over the wall and forcing a fingertip save from Kelechi Chibueze in the Blues’ goal. The saved effort, however, cannoned up off the crossbar and fell into the path of Fionn Mooney, who was able to scramble it home.
Chelsea looked rattled to have conceded, and it was only a fine last-ditch tackle by their skipper Alfie Gilchrist shortly afterwards that prevented Akinwale from doubling the Eagles’ lead.
The Blues did slowly start to respond however, creating a series of opportunities that culminated in the awarding of a penalty in the 20th minute. However Illing-Junior - who had missed an earlier chance - again failed to capitalise, firing the ball wide of the right-hand post with England U15 ‘keeper Joe Whitworth beaten.
The west Londoners were made to pay for their missed chances as Palace doubled their lead on 31 minutes. Dispossessing his opposite man Silko Thomas deep inside his own half, Tayo Aderamola embarked on a surging run and delivered an inch-perfect cross into the path of Akinwale who slammed in from close range.
The Eagles then stood firm in the face of further Chelsea forays into their box, and were able to take their 2-0 lead into the half-time break.
The second half began in bitty fashion, until a moment of quality from Akinwale further extended Palace’s advantage over their London rivals. Latching on to a cross from the right, the frontman fashioned an acrobatic overhead kick that surprised Chibueze, who got a hand on it but couldn’t keep it out.
On the back of such a magnificent goal, the Eagles were soaring, with Mooney increasingly dictating play from the top of the midfield and the full backs continuing to get the upper hand against the Blues’ wing pairing of Illing-Junior and Thomas.
As the match ticked into the final quarter, the players’ efforts began to take their toll, with Palace in particular making a number of substitutions for cramp and fatigue.
Whilst it disrupted the rhythm of the game, it resulted in few clear-cut openings for the Blues. The only dicey moment for the Palace backline was a low cross from Thomas which ricocheted onto the post, somehow ending up in the arms of Goodmen, who had replaced Whitworth in goal at the interval.
Chelsea ultimately accepted it wasn’t to be their night, and when the final whistle sounded, the young Eagles collapsed in delight, elated with a performance that had fully merited their triumph.
Palace will face either Sunderland or Wigan Athletic in the Super Floodlit Cup national final on Friday 3rd May (19:30 kick-off) at Walsall Football Club. Supporters can attend free of charge.
Palace: Whitworth (Goodmen 45), Brown, Aderamola, Jobson, Rodney, Cadman, Raymond (C), Wells-Morrison (Faakye 85), Akinwale (Ole Bomi 73), Mooney, Cadogen (Atta 76).
Subs not used: Bishop, Viqor, Taylor.
Chelsea: Chibueze, Abu (Flower 53), Williams, Gilchrist (C), Morgan, Kpakpe (Richards 68), Thomas, Vale, Soonsup-Bell, Hall, Illing-Junior.
Subs not used: Eccleston, Adegoke, Hughes, Soglo.