United defender Tyler Blackett had the fans off their seats on 34 minutes when he took aim from 35 yards after a short free-kick was laid off by Jack Rudge. Unfortunately for Blackett the ball smacked against the cross-bar and Chelsea cleared, but it was some strike.
After Chelsea’s top scorer Feruz had dragged efforts wide either side of half-time, the Reds began to apply the pressure. And just after the hour-mark McGuinness’ men restored parity. Gyliano van Velzen forced a save from Jamal Blackman and from the resulting corner Wilson was on hand to slot the ball under Blackman after Alex Davey’s attempted clearance had bounced off the back of Lewis Baker into Wilson’s path.
The scores were level for just a matter of minutes though after Chelsea retook the lead on 68 minutes. Rudge mis-controlled the ball in midfield allowing Chalobah to pounce and find Feruz. He attempted to return the favour but the ball deflected off McCullough and into the space in front, with Feruz letting fly from 25 yards and firing the ball past Jonathan Sutherland.
Thereafter, McCullough made a vital last-ditch tackle with Feruz nearly in for his second and Sutherland saved brilliantly from substitute Alex Kiwomya, before United missed a golden opportunity to find another equaliser with six minutes left when van Velzen dragged a weak shot wide after being well found by Mats Daehli.
Chelsea held out for the victory but United are by no means out of the tie. Indeed, the second leg at Stamford Bridge – the date of which is yet to be confirmed – promises to be another fascinating encounter.
United: Sutherland; Grimshaw, Ioannou, McCullough, Blackett; Barmby (Ekangamene 90), Rudge (Hendrie 76), Pearson (Byrne 76), van Velzen; Daehli, Wilson. Subs not used: Jacob, Dalley.