LADIES REPORT: CHELSEA 2 LINCOLN 3
Chelsea Ladies finished the FA WSL season in sixth place after a narrow defeat to Lincoln Ladies in their final match of the campaign at Wheatsheaf Park.
With the league season drawing to an end for both sides, the early stages of the match had an end-of-season feel, with neither side establishing any particular dominance. The most entertaining of the opening exchanges saw Gemma Bonner fire a speculative effort from 30 yards, which was held comfortably by Nicola Hobbs.
As the first half came to a close, the match began to come to life, with a flurry of chances coming in the final 10 minutes. A spell of Chelsea pressure saw Helen Bleazard showing great composure to control a lofted ball into the box, but the Welsh international could not keep her finish down as the ball sailed over the crossbar.
Three minutes later, the Blues' best chance of the half fell to Dunia Susi. After some excellent work to win the ball ahead of Lincoln 'keeper Hobbs, Susi could not convert from a tight angle, as her effort flashed across the face of the goal.
At the other end, a crucial intervention from Gemma Bonner kept the scores level, with a superb goalline clearance to deny Jess Clarke from close range. Meanwhile, in a frenetic end to the half, Bonner came close at the other end. After Sophie Ingle's initial corner kick was cleared, Helen Lander's return ball was met by the outstretched leg of the Blues central defender, who could not connect cleanly to apply the finish.
In the closing seconds of the half, the visitors broke the deadlock. With Precious Hamilton moving infield from the left flank, her low finish found the bottom corner to give Lincoln the lead going into the break.
After the interval, the hosts got off to a disastrous start. Just five minutes into the half, a dangerous Lincoln dead ball delivery was flicked on by former Blues skipper Casey Stoney. It found Remi Allen, who reacted quickly to fire into the roof of the net, doubling the visitors' advantage.
The hosts looked to respond instantly, with Bleazard showing some neat footwork on the edge of the Lincoln penalty area, but could not find the target with the finish. Then the task became all the more daunting for the Blues on 54 minutes.
After some neat build-up play from the visitors, Lucy Staniforth created space in the Chelsea box, firing a low effort into the bottom corner to the give Lincoln a three-goal lead.
Facing a mammoth task, the hosts looked to recreate the spirit of the side that beat Bristol Academy in their previous outing, with Lander giving the Blues hope on the hour mark. Having watched the ball roll across the Lincoln box, the Wales forward drilled her low effort across the goal into the bottom corner to reduce the deficit with 30 minutes remaining.
In a further twist four minutes later, a tangle between Adriana Martin and Sophie Walton ended in a red card for the Lincoln midfielder, leaving the visitors down to 10 players for the remainder of the match.
As the Blues looked to take advantage, the hosts were frustrated by a stubborn Lincoln side, who almost sealed the win with five minutes remaining as Jess Clarke rounded Telford, only for Ingle to sweep in behind the Chelsea keeper to block the finish and deny the visitors a fourth.
As the match looked to be slipping beyond Chelsea's reach, Dunia Susi gave the Blues a late glimmer of hope, heading home in injury time, but this proved to be the final action of the season as Lincoln held on to take all three points.
After the match, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes was disappointed to end the season on a low note, but looked to use the early days of her Blues tenure to build for the future.
'In the opening 45 I was pleased with a lot of things that we did well,' said Hayes, 'but it shows you that at the top level, if you don't concentrate either side of half time it'll cost you and eight minutes cost us in the second half.
'It takes time to instill a winning mentality, but we also need to deepen the squad with more winners and more maturity so that we help our young players recognise how to turn these closely fought games into wins.'
Chelsea Ladies now begin their winter close season before their return in the new year in preparation for the 2013 FA WSL campaign.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Carly Telford (C; Lara Fay, Gemma Bonner, Kylie Davies (Kate Longhurst 60), Sophie Perry; Sophie Ingle, Laura Coombs, Helen Bleazard, Dunia Susi; Helen Lander (Sue Lappin 75), Adriana Martin.
Unused subs Ashlee Hincks, Claire Rafferty.
By Daniel Clarke