LADIES REPORT: CHELSEA 2 ARSENAL 4
Three second half goals saw Chelsea Ladies slip to defeat against champions Arsenal in an enthralling clash at Wheatsheaf Park.
Following Matt Beard's resignation, chair of Chelsea Ladies Peter Steward took to the dugout alongside Rob Udberg and Andy Ottley, who moved up to first team from the Centre of Excellence.
Two changes to the side that beat Liverpool in their previous fixture saw Sophie Perry and Helen Bleazard replace Katie Sherwood and Helen Lander.
A frantic opening to the match saw Arsenal awarded a penalty after 10 minutes when Arsenal's Gemma Davison was fouled by Sophie Ingle, allowing Kim Little to put the visitors in front from the penalty spot.
The visitors' lead lasted just four minutes. After some neat link-up play between Drew Spence and Laura Coombs earned Chelsea a corner, Danni Buet's delivery deceived Emma Byrne in the Arsenal goal, dipping over the keeper into the far corner to level the scores.
As the first half continued to be an end-to-end affair, Chelsea 'keeper Sarah Quantrill was forced into a succession of saves, first to deny Steph Houghton before reacting quickly to smother Kate Chapman's effort just a minute later.
The hosts also came close to a second goal, as Kate Longhurst latched onto Helen Bleazard's through ball, only for Byrne to save well before gathering the ball at the second attempt.
With the interval approaching, Rachel Yankey was the next Arsenal player to test Quantrill, stinging the palms of the Blues 'keeper from 25 yards. Quantrill parried well for a corner before the hosts took the lead on the stroke of half-time.
After Dunia Susi's incisive drive into the Arsenal penalty area, the winger was brought down by Arsenal's Gilly Flaherty, allowing Buet to rifle the spot kick into the top corner.
The second 45 minutes proved to be just as busy as the first, with Arsenal beginning the brighter. Quantrill again saved well to deny Little before Jennifer Beattie reacted to the resulting corner, lashing a half-volley against the crossbar.
Having survived the visitors' early onslaught, the hosts begun their own spell of pressure. After some tenacious work from Helen Bleazard earned Chelsea a corner, a succession of deliveries followed, culminating in Gemma Bonner's superb header, blocked on the line by Houghton.
In a bright spell for the Blues, Kate Longhurst again came close to doubling her side's advantage. In behind the Arsenal defence, Longhurst pushed the ball past the advancing Byrne only to see her effort come back off the post.
After spurning chances to extend their lead, Arsenal substitute Kelly Smith brought the Gunners level, rising highest to meet Alex Scott's delivery with a looping header.
Eight minutes later, Smith put the visitors back in front. Receiving the ball with her back to goal, the striker turned superbly before finding the bottom corner with 10 minutes remaining.
With the visitors taking a late lead, Little added her second to secure the points, skipping passed Quantrill to slot home, doubling Arsenal's lead with six minutes remaining.
Despite the disappointing scoreline, Blues chair Steward was left to rue his side's missed chances, but was encouraged by his side's display.
'I think the difference was us not finishing them off, because they were there for the taking (at 2-1),' said Steward. 'We had our chances, it was a good game and we're pleased, apart from the result.'
Chelsea Ladies now have a mid-season break over the upcoming Olympic Games before resuming the campaign with a trip to Doncaster Rovers Belles.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Sarah Quantrill; Sophie Perry, Victoria Wiliams, Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle; Danni Buet, Drew Spence (Kylie Davies 90), Laura Coombs (Sue Lappin 78), Dunia Susi (C); Helen Bleazard, Kate Longhurst (Ashlee Hincks 78).
Unused subs Carly Telford, Claire Rafferty, Helen Lander.