Fulham will take a narrow lead to Stamford Bridge next week after coming from behind to beat Chelsea in a thrilling FA Youth Cup final first leg at Craven Cottage.
After a goalless first half the floodgates opened, with Jay Dasilva putting the Blues ahead on 48 minutes, before goals from Moussa Dembele, Emerson Hyndman and Cameron Burgess put Fulham into a commanding position, only for substitute Charly Musonda to hand the visitors a lifeline late on.
Expectations were high for the meeting of two talented young sides with the added spice of a west London derby atmosphere, and a raucous crowd of 4457 were not disappointed.
Fulham boss Steve Wigley kept faith with the same starting XI which saw off Reading 3-2 at Craven Cottage earlier this month, while Adi Viveash made three changes to the Chelsea side which edged out Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, with Bradley Collins, Isak Ssewankambo and Dasilva replacing Mitchell Beeney, Fankaty Dabo and Alex Kiwomya.
The visitors flew out of the traps and on three minutes Ruben Loftus-Cheek jinked past two Fulham defenders before forcing Marek Rodak into a low save. Former West Brom youngster Isaiah Brown then cut inside from the right flank and unleashed a deflected shot which Rodak managed to clear with his feet.
Much of the pre-match hype centred around the Cottagers’ prodigious No.10 Patrick Roberts, and on the half-hour mark the 17-year-old exploded into life to win his team a penalty, dribbling past Ola Aina and Jake Clarke-Salter and racing into the box before being felled clumsily by Aina.
But Chelsea were granted a reprieve as Dembele stepped up and attempted a panenka which fooled Collins but gained too much height before clipping the crossbar and flying over, right in front of a gleeful away end.
The Blues roared back and on 36 minutes Burgess had to be at his most agile to deny both Dominic Solanke and Brown in quick succession on the line. Four minutes later Solanke raced in behind the Fulham defence and stung the palms of Rodak, before Houghton met Brown’s low cross with a shot which cannoned off both Liam Donnelly and Burgess before flying just over with the Slovakian goalkeeper beaten, and the two sides went in level at the break.
Chelsea began the second half as they had ended the first and, after Loftus-Cheek had blazed over from the edge of the area, Dasilva broke the deadlock on 48 minutes, hammering into the bottom corner after good work from Brown. Fulham were rocking and moments later an incisive Houghton pass set Solanke through, but the England Under-17 international’s scuffed effort trickled wide.
On 55 minutes Chelsea went close again but Ssewankambo’s header from Charlie Colkett’s cross flashed just wide of a helpless Rodak’s far post. Dasilva, only a week past his 16th birthday, was running riot on the left flank and another incisive run and pull-back found Houghton, whose low shot was blocked by another sliding intervention from Burgess.
But Chelsea were made to pay for their profligacy on 69 minutes when Dembele lost Andreas Christensen and powerfully headed home a Dean O'Halloran corner.
The Blues immediately raced up the other end and the livewire Dasilva forced Rodak into another save with his feet, but on 71 minutes Fulham turned the match on its head when Hyndman ran at Christensen and unleashed a low shot which deflected off the Dane and past Collins via the post.
Set-piece marking again proved Chelsea’s undoing 10 minutes from time as Donnelly peeled away at the back post to keep another O’Halloran delivery alive and Burgess nodded the ball home from close range.
The final minutes were anxious as Chelsea pressed for an equaliser, but Fulham held onto a result that will leave both sides feeling confident they can claim overall victory when battle resumes at Stamford Bridge next Monday.