LADIES REPORT: ARSENAL 3 CHELSEA 1
Chelsea Ladies suffered their first league defeat of the season as a depleted Blues side went down 3-1 to champions Arsenal.
For the first of two matches in three days between the two sides, Chelsea manager Matt Beard made three changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Liverpool on Sunday. Lara Fay, Sue Lappin and Helen Bleazard came in for Sophie Ingle, Katie Sherwood and Ashlee Hincks.
In front of a record crowd for a ladies game at the Emirates, the Blues had goalkeeper Carly Telford to thank for keeping the scores level in the early exchanges, after the shot-stopper came out quickly to thwart a string of crosses in the opening minutes.
The hosts would have the ball in the net in the 10th minute, only to see the effort disallowed for a foul on Telford, following a collision which would eventually bring a premature end to the Chelsea captain's evening.
Despite carrying an injury, Telford continued to impress with a string of saves, including a superb double block, first keeping out Katie Chapman's close-range header, before reacting quickly to smother Danielle Carter's rebound. The Blues' keeper would again be called upon moments later, diving low to hold a fierce Kim Little's drive.
After a spell of sustained Arsenal pressure, it was former Gunner Helen Lander that almost broke the deadlock for Chelsea, poking her stretching effort narrowly over the bar from Sue Lappin's lay-off.
With the scores level at half-time, the visitors would be forced into a double substitution. Sarah Quantrill replaced Telford in goal, who was still feeling the effects of the earlier challenge, while a hamstring injury saw Claire Rafferty replaced by Sophie Perry.
Chelsea's reshuffled defence barely had time to settle before the hosts took the lead, as Little raced clear of the Blues defence to lift her effort over Quantrill just two minutes into the half.
The Gunners almost doubled their lead just moments later, through a powerful strike from Steph Houghton, but stand-in keeper Quantrill was quick across her goal to palm the effort to safety.
As the visitors continued to soak up pressure, the hosts would double their lead on 68 minutes. Having been denied with her headed effort in the first half, Chapman would rise highest to meet Little's cross.
Despite the champions strengthening their grip on the match, the Blues rallied, with Kate Longhurst cutting in from the left before unleashing a superb curling effort over Arsenal keeper Emma Byrne to half the deficit on 77 minutes.
With the match set up for a pulsating finish, it was the hosts who would have the final say, as Quantrill tipped a long-range Little effort over the bar, despite the ball seeming destined for the top corner. Little eventually found the net in injury time after latching onto Gemma Davison's pass to lash home.
After his side's first league defeat of the season, Blues boss Beard was encouraged by the efforts of his team, despite losing key players before and during the match.
'We were disappointed with the way we conceded the goals,' reported Beard, 'but we can take heart from some of the performances.'
'We know we've got a good squad here. With Carly Telford and Claire Rafferty taking knocks tonight, we've got Sophie Ingle and Katie Sherwood to come back into the fold. I thought Sarah Quantrill's second half performance was fantastic.'
Chelsea Ladies' season continues with the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal at Brentford FC's Griffin Park on Sunday 29 April.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Carly Telford (C) (Sarah Quantrill HT), Lara Fay, Gemma Bonner, Victoria Williams, Claire Rafferty (Sophie Perry HT), Dunia Susi, Dani Buet, Laura Coombs, Helen Bleazard, Sue Lappin (Kate Longhurst 55), Helen Lander
Unused Subs Sophie Gwilliam, Ashlee Hincks, Drew Spence
By Daniel Clarke