Match Report: Birmingham City 0-1 Chelsea

Photo: @ChelseaFCW

Chelsea produced another performance that left more questions than answers after they were largely frustrated by winless Birmingham City, who were supremely well organised in defence at Damson Park this afternoon.

Birmingham made two changes from their midweek defeat to Everton in the FA Cup Semi-Final, by bringing in Georgia Brougham, Connie Scofield and Jamie Lee Napier who would play against her parent club. Chelsea revealed a squad which possibly revealed they have an eye on their next two games against Arsenal in the Continental Cup and Manchester City in the FAWSL as Sam Kerr, Ji So-Yun and Pernille Harder were all named on the bench. This did though allow Beth England to start for the first time this season.

Emma Hayes’ side were on the offence from the start, playing the ball around with great confidence. Ominously for the struggling Birmingham side, this early dominance was reflected on the scoreboard. Erin Cuthbert’s free kick on the left found Fran Kirby and the Lionesses star floated her header into the far corner after just nine minutes. That one of the smallest players on the pitch could beat her marker in the air to score would be concerning to say the least to City boss Carla Ward.

Chelsea had total command of the midfield and could play the ball around as they pleased for much of the opening exchanges. Jonna Andersson had the freedom of the West Midlands on the left to play balls around on demand.
The reigning champions won another free-kick after Jamie Lee Napier’s studs made contact with the ankle of her Scotland and some-time Chelsea teammate Erin Cuthbert, but Hampton dealt with the danger comfortably.
Despite their inability to create anything going forward, Birmingham responded well to the early concession and organised themselves well deep behind the ball in two banks of four. They were happy for Chelsea to probe and try to play the ball around them forced the West Londoners to remain patient, particularly with their creative magician Ji So-Yun not in the starting line-up.
With seven minutes of the half left, Guru Reiten sent an effort crashing against the bar after Jonna Andersson’s cross was headed away by Rachel Corsie straight to the Norwegian who was unlucky with Hannah Hampton beaten.
Under the influence of Jamie Lee Napier, Birmingham began to grow into the game and won a corner in a great battle with Maren Mjelde down the City left. From the flag kick, Sarah Mayling found Georgia Brougham who floated an effort over the bar.
Chelsea responded with Magda Eriksson’s header from Erin Cuthbert’s corner which went wide just before half-time.
Chelsea started well in the second period as Jonna Andersson played a ball towards Guru Reiten who played a beautiful dummy which allowed Fran Kirby space down the left but City’s Lucy Whipp forced the ball behind for a corner which was dealt with.
Once more Chelsea had all the possession, but the well-organised hosts ensured that the visitors had as little space as possible to play in. This forced Sophie Ingle to try an effort from well outside the box, but her shot flew over the bar.
It was a real classic case of attack v defence throughout the second period with Birmingham’s defence largely winning out. With sixty-four minutes played, Fran Kirby put in a fierce drive which Hannah Hampton saved well at the near post.
In a bid to add more creativity to the attack, Chelsea brought on the trio of Ji, Sam Kerr and Niamh Charles. The visitors earned a corner immediately when Harriet Scott blocked Andersson’s cross. Maren Mjelde’s corner fell to Millie Bright who had an effort blocked by Rachel Corsie with Ji firing the rebound over the roof of the stand behind the goal.
The visitors won a number of corners in a short spell but none caused the Midland side any problems.
When Chelsea finally did get the ball in the net again, it was ruled out. Melanie Leupolz’s through ball was headed in by Beth England, but Sam Kerr, positioned just behind England was offside and the goal was ruled out.
There was more frustration for Chelsea shortly afterwards when Ji’s shot couldn’t be held by Hampton and dropped to Beth England who seemed certain to score, but Harriet Scott put in a sensational effort to prevent the Chelsea striker’s effort from trickling over the line.
Pernille Harder was then brought on for Fran Kirby, but the next chance was Birmingham’s. Harriet Scott’s ball in was met by Connie Scofield but her effort went agonisingly wide.
England was denied once more when Kerr played in a great ball towards her strike partner, but the Lioness hit a shot wide. The final opportunity of the afternoon fell Chelsea’s way as Kerr combined brilliantly with Harder which resulted in the Dane powering a shot wide.
Chelsea remain an enigma this season, despite huge strength in depth, they don’t seem to have retained the same flow that they had last season. At the end of the day, this was a narrow win against a side who will be in the mix for relegation. Emma Hayes’ side face two of their title rivals in the next seven days. If they don’t step things up, the reigning champions could be on the back foot in both the Continental Cup and FAWSL within the opening month of the campaign.
Birmingham City: Hampton, Scott, Brougham, Corsie Holloway, Whipp, Mayling, Scofield, Murray, Napier, Walker.
Substitutes: Green (used), Grant, Kelly (used), McCarron, Toussaint, Lawley (GK)

Chelsea: Berger, Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson, Ingle, Leupolz, Cuthbert, England, Kirby, Reiten.
Substitutes: Telford (GK), Thorisdottir, Blundell, Carter, Ji (used), Fleming, Kerr (used), Charles (used), Harder (used).

Referee: Abigail Byrne


Photo: @ChelseaFCW

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