LADIES FA CUP SEMI-FINAL: CHELSEA 2 ARSENAL 0
Chelsea Ladies are through to the FA Women's Cup final after goals from Helen Bleazard and Dunia Susi secured a 2-0 victory over holders Arsenal Ladies.
A week after the two sides met at the Emirates Stadium in the FA WSL, Blues manager Matt Beard made five changes to the starting line-up for this game at Brentford's Griffin Park. Sarah Quantrill came in for injured captain Carly Telford in the Chelsea goal, while Sophie Perry replaced Claire Rafferty, also injured in the two sides' previous meeting.
Looking to avenge the previous week's 3-1 defeat, Chelsea began the match brightly and pressed the Gunners in the opening minutes. However, the hosts fired an early warning shot, with Alex Scott putting her low effort wide from distance.
Chelsea created the game's first real chance after 10 minutes. A quick counter-attacking move saw Dunia Susi carry the ball through the Arsenal half before finding Kate Longhurst, who turned and unleashed a powerful effort, stinging the palms of Arsenal goalkeeper Emma Byrne, who parried well for a Chelsea corner.
Despite a good spell of early pressure from the Blues, the FA Cup holders again threatened on the break, with Ciara Grant coming close for Arsenal, rising highest to head narrowly over the crossbar.
However, Chelsea continued to build on their positive start, taking the lead in stunning fashion midway through the first half. Winning the ball on the halfway line, winger Bleazard drove in from the left, before unleashing a superb 25-yard drive into the top corner to give the Blues the advantage.
Looking to react quickly, the FA Cup holders continued to test the Blues' defence throughout the remainder of the half. Quantrill was called upon several times to keep the Gunners at bay, denying Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little, including a stunning reflex save to palm Little's effort onto the crossbar from close range.
Having taken the lead early in the second half in their previous encounter, Arsenal again looked to take the initiative at the beginning of the second period. Nobbs was again at the heart of the action for the Gunners, forcing two saves from Quantrill. There was also an excellent Sophie Perry goal-line clearance to deny Rachel Yankey.
Looking to ease the pressure on the Chelsea defence, stand-in skipper Susi almost doubled the Blues' advantage after racing clear to meet Dani Buet's through-ball, forcing Byrne into a low save.
While Chelsea 'keeper Quantrill continued to stand out with a commanding display between the posts, the Blues back four continued to keep Arsenal at bay. Gemma Bonner dived bravely in front of a powerful Rachel Yankey close-range effort to preserve the lead before Chelsea secured the win in the final five minutes.
With a free-kick awarded on the left flank, Buet's delivery was met at the far post by Susi, heading past Byrne to seal Chelsea's place in the final, which takes place on Saturday 26 May.
Blues boss Matt Beard was delighted how his side secured their place in the showpiece at Bristol City, but conceded the more immediate challenges now lie somewhat closer to home.
'I'm delighted, the players deserved it, they worked so hard,' said Beard. 'I felt last Thursday we didn't implement what we'd worked on in training and but we did that in this game and the result is proof of that.
'It [the Final] is a day we're all looking forward to, but there' are games before that and we've got to focus on them and make sure we pick points up.'
Chelsea resume their League campaign this Sunday with a home match against Bristol Academy at Wheatsheaf Park.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Sarah Quantrill; Lara Fay, Sophie Perry, Gemma Bonner, Kate Sherwood (Drew Spence 60); Dani Buet, Helen Bleazard (Ashlee Hincks 64), Sophie Ingle, Dunia Susi (C); Laura Coombs, Kate Longhurst (Helen Lander 75)
Unused Subs Sue Lappin, Victoria Williams
By Daniel Clarke