Chelsea won the battle of two unbeaten sides in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League at Kingsmeadow this afternoon.
More ominously for the rest of the FAWSL sides, towards the end of the game, Emma Hayes’ side began to find the form that their star-studded squad has promised for so long – but as yet had not quite delivered consistently.
Chelsea named Beth England in the starting line-up with Sam Kerr dropping to the bench. eighteen-year-old Emily Orman stepped up as substitute goalkeeper in place of Carly Telford with seventeen-year-old forward Emily Murphy also on the bench. For Everton their two top scorers Valerie Gauvin and Lucy Graham were missing after picking up injuries in last Sunday’s FA Cup Final. They were replaced by Simone Magill and Claire Emslie.
The Toffies pressed high from the start, getting into Chelsea’s faces and trying to impose themselves on the game. In one such move, Ingle was dispossessed by Christiansen but the danger was cleared.
It was a breathless opening. Jonna Andersson’s balls into the box caused no end of problems to the Everton defence in this period. Her free-kick on seven minutes led to Melanie Leupolz playing in a secondary ball towards Beth England, but Rikke Sevecke marshalled the reigning FAWSL Player of the Year out.
Shortly afterwards, the Swede lofted another cross in which was just out of Pernille Harder’s reach.
Everton came close just before the quarter-hour mark when Ann-Katrin Berger’s clearance fell at the feet of Damaris Egurrola who lofted an attempt towards the empty net as Berger scrambled back to her goal, with the ball falling wide.
It was another goalkeeping error that provided the first goal of the afternoon. Everton custodian Sandy MacIver, the Merseysiders’ hero at Wembley last week, drove an attempted clearance into England’s back with the ball falling to Ji on the edge of the box. The South Korean star volleyed her effort first time into the net.
After the goal, Chelsea tried to take the sting out of the game by going into a patient, passing game to maximise possession and wait for the optimal moment to launch an attack.
With 27 minutes on the clock, a foul on Leupolz outside to the box to the left of centre saw Mjelde drive a free-kick into the wall, with the ball rebounding to Ji in a similar position to where she scored, but this time the power and accuracy was not quite there.
Ten minutes before the break, Everton created a great chance. Izzy Christiansen combined well with Claire Emslie. The Scot found Hayley Raso on the left and the Australian international played in a perfect cross for Christiansen who got between two defenders, but couldn’t get any power or direction in her attempt.
Chelsea’s response was instant and Cuthbert produced a beautiful ball in for England who headed over. Shortly afterwards, England had another chance when she was clean through with just MacIver to beat. The Lionesses star chose to take the ball on rather than shoot early and the Toffees keeper was able to force striker too wide to get an accurate shot in.
The home side’s promising build-up play continued as Millie Bright combined with Ingle and Cuthbert. The Scot found Ji whose effort went over the bar.
In the final minutes of the half, Chelsea were comfortably in the ascendency. Mjelde forced Raso into conceding a corner. Andersson’s ball in once more caused huge problems as it found its way across to Harder who will be disappointed that her header went wide.
Everton created the first chance of the second half when Claire Emslie refused to give up by the bye-line and won a free-kick from Magda Eriksson. Christiansen’s free-kick found Raso but the home defence refused to allow the Toffees to get a shot away.
Pernille Harder gained a free-kick when referee Abigail Byrne adjudged somewhat harshly that Hayley Raso had fouled her. Christiansen cleared the danger for a throw.
Rikke Sevecke was forced off after an accidental collision of heads with Beth England just before the hour mark. It was England who came close again when she powered past two defenders on the left-hand side and crashed in a shot that Sandy MacIver pushed out for a corner.
Jonna Andersson earned a corner after combining well with Erin Cuthbert. Millie Bright met the flag kick with an eye-catching back-heeled flick which went just wide.
Hayley Raso missed a great chance for the visitors when she was found by Ingrid Moe Wold’s cross but her effort was wide.
Cuthbert fired in a great early effort with eighteen minutes left which MacIver got down well to catch. Seconds later, the defending champions had better luck. Harder found Leupolz in the box who gloriously back-heeled the ball into the path of England who finished beautifully.
Two minutes later, Cuthbert had another effort which MacIver dealt with brilliantly by pushing onto the bar. Beth England, back in razor-sharp form, reacted the quickest to head home.
From the re-start it was nearly a hat-trick. Andersson played in yet another great cross but England’s diving header went just wide.
With nine minutes left, Berger gave the ball away again in an attempted clearance and the ball found its way to Molly Pike whose effort was cleared for a corner.
Sam Kerr came on and created a chance for herself with a driving run along the left-hand side before cutting in and getting a shot away which MacIver gathered.
Nicoline Sorensen earned a corner from Jess Carter. Izzy Christiansen’s flag-kick was dealt with, but Moe Wold played the ball back in with the resulting header from Damaris Egurrola coming back off of the post.
There was one more moment of magic at the very end. Pernille Harder grabbed her first Chelsea strike with a sensational finish. The Dane received the ball in midfield, drove past two defenders and played a one-two with England before dispatching a glorious effort into the top corner.
After gaining an important victory against the most improved side in the FAWSL, Chelsea now face a fascinating clash with Arsenal at Boreham Wood next weekend.
Chelsea: Berger, Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Ingle, Leupolz, Cuthbert, Ji, England, Harder. Substitutes: Orman (GK), Thorisdottir, Carter, J. Fleming, Kerr, Charles, Murphy.
Scorers: Ji 16. England 73, 75. Harder 90+7.
Everton: MacIver, Moe Wold, Sevecke, Finnigan, Turner, Christiansen, Egurrola, Emslie, Magill, Raso, Sorensen. Substitutes: Korpela (GK), Boye-Hlorkah, Stringer, Pike, Clemaron, Clinton, Pattinson.
Referee: Abigail Byrne