LADIES REPORT: BIRMINGHAM CITY LADIES 4 CHELSEA LADIES 2
Set pieces again proved to be Chelsea Ladies' downfall as the side were beaten 4-2 by Birmingham City in an enthralling clash at the DCS stadium.
Five days after the FA Cup final, Chelsea manager Matt Beard made three changes to the side that lost to Birmingham on penalties. Kate Longhurst, Ashlee Hincks and Drew Spence came in for Katie Sherwood, Laura Coombs and Helen Bleazard.
The new FA Cup holders began brightly, taking the lead in the sixth minute. A long ball caused havoc behind the Chelsea defence and the onrushing Jodie Taylor beat Blues goalkeeper Carly Telford to the ball, before calmly riding Gemma Bonner's challenge to slot home.
The visitors' disastrous start worsened just five minutes later. As the visitors worked the ball to the right flank, Karen Carney, a goalscorer in the two sides' previous encounter, cut inside and rifled a fierce effort into the top corner.
Looking to recover from the early setbacks, Chelsea came close to halving the deficit just past the midway point in the first half. After forcing a string of corners, Ashlee Hincks was picked up at the far post, firing a low effort which was beaten out by Rebecca Spencer. Bonner's follow-up was then blocked among a mass of bodies in front of the Birmingham City goal.
But after a wave of Chelsea pressure, the breakthrough would come just seconds later from another corner kick delivery when Gemma Bonner rose highest to head home and give Chelsea a lifeline on 24 minutes.
Buoyed by Bonner's strike, Chelsea continued to pile on the pressure, with Hincks again coming close, cutting inside from the left and unleashing a powerful near-post shot. It was parried well by Spencer before Dani Buet came close with a 30-yard effort, which was deflected narrowly wide for a Chelsea corner.
However, the hosts nearly made it three as the first half drew to a close, with Carney again at the heart of the action, chasing down a ball in behind the Chelsea backline. However, Telford was equal to the effort, out quickly to keep Birmingham's lead to a single goal going into the interval.
As with the first half, the second 45 minutes began in frantic fashion and the visitors netted an equaliser seven minutes after the restart. After some neat footwork from Longhurst, her pinpoint cross found Lander, who reacted quickest to poke past Spencer.
The scores would remain level for just a minute before the hosts retook the lead. From Jo Potter's corner, Rachel Unitt scrambled home to make it 3-2 to Birmingham.
After again falling behind in the match, Chelsea looked to launch another comeback. Some combative work from Drew Spence saw the midfielder drive through the centre, testing Spencer with a low drive, which was held well by the Birmingham 'keeper.
After conceding a late Birmingham free kick in Saturday's FA Women's Cup Final, Chelsea were again undone from a set piece. With a free kick awarded on the edge of the penalty area, Carney left it to Potter, who smashed the ball into the bottom corner to secure three points for the hosts.
After the match, Blues boss Beard was frustrated to see his side denied by Birmingham for the second time in five days.
'We haven't learned from our mistakes on Saturday and it has cost us again tonight,' said Beard. 'It's desperately disappointing and we've got to cut these errors out. We know we've got goals in the team. We can beat anyone on our day, but we're not going to beat teams if we keep making silly errors.'
Chelsea Ladies' campaign resumes with a Continental Cup clash away to Arsenal on Sunday 10 June.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Carly Telford (C); Lara Fay (Sophie Gwilliam 82), Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle, Claire Rafferty; Dunia Susi, Dani Buet, Drew Spence, Ashlee Hincks (Sue Lappin 66); Kate Longhurst, Helen Lander.
Unused subs Sarah Quantrill, Sophie Perry, Laura Coombs, Victoria Williams.
By Daniel Clarke