LADIES REPORT: CHELSEA LADIES 3 EVERTON LADIES 1
A superb hat-trick from Helen Lander saw Chelsea Ladies come from behind to take three points with a 3-1 victory over Everton Ladies at Wheatsheaf Park.
Chelsea manager Matt Beard made four changes to the side that beat Liverpool 2-1 in the Continental Cup in the last outing, including a return to the Chelsea goal for captain Carly Telford. Dani Buet, Claire Rafferty and Helen Bleazard came in for Sue Lappin, Sophie Gwilliam and Ashlee Hincks.
The visitors began the brighter, putting Chelsea under pressure in the early stages. Toni Duggan was at the heart of the action for Everton and twice came close to scoring in the opening 20 minutes. Her best chance came after latching onto a goal kick which evaded the Blues' backline before firing a fierce effort inches wide.
As Chelsea continued to defend against the visitors' onslaught, Blues 'keeper Telford's performance between the posts kept the game goalless. The shot-stopper reacted sharply to parry Nikita Parris' wayward cross which looked to be dipping underneath the crossbar.
Meanwhile, Sophie Ingle was also vital to the hosts' cause, with a series of crucial challenges, including a superb double-intervention to deny Duggan as Everton continued to press for the opener.
Despite the best efforts of the Chelsea defence, the visitors took the lead after 23 minutes. Michelle Hinnigan received the ball on the left of the Chelsea goal before unleashing an unstoppable long-range effort into the top corner.
With the deadlock broken, the match began to come to life with Drew Spence finding her long-range shot and follow-up effort both blocked by the Everton defence. Then, Gemma Bonner's last-ditch goal-line block four minutes from the break allowed Telford to gather the ball, triggering a swift counter-attacking move which almost saw Lander put the Blues level, only for Everton 'keeper Rachel Brown to block the effort.
However, Lander was not to be denied. In first-half stoppage time, a brilliant Dunia Susi cross found the striker at the far post and Lander poked home the equaliser.
Into the second half, Chelsea looked to build on their momentum. Susi came close to scoring after heading a Buet corner wide of the near post. Then goalscorer Lander turned provider, laying off for Bleazard whose powerful effort from 20 yards was well held by Brown.
Welsh international Bleazard was a constant menace in the second half and repeatedly threatened the Everton goal, including a ferocious drive which skimmed inches passed the post.
The breakthrough came with 16 minutes remaining. Typifying her tenacious performance, Lander again chased a ball in behind the Everton defence before lashing home.
With the Blues defending their lead as the match drew to a close, Lander made sure of the win, again finding the net in stoppage time. The striker fired home from close range to complete her hat-trick and to finish a successful afternoon for the Blues.
'We've got good players going forward, we've got pace in the team and I'm delighted for Helen,' said Blues manager Beard after the game, 'It was a great hat-trick, especially the last two goals, she took them really well.'
'We're on a roll. We've got nothing to fear - going into the FA Cup Final, we're probably the underdogs which suits us, so we're looking forward to it.'
Chelsea Ladies' attention now switches to the final of the FA Women's Cup against Birmingham City Ladies at Bristol City's Ashton Gate on Saturday 26 May.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Carly Telford; Lara Fay, Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle, Claire Rafferty (Sophie Perry 68); Dunia Susi (Ashlee Hincks 85), Danni Buet, Drew Spence, Helen Bleazard; Laura Coombs (Sue Lappin 63), Helen Lander.
Unused subs Sarah Quantrill, Sophie Gwilliam, Victoria Williams, Kate Longhurst
By Daniel Clarke