Ladies report: Chelsea 6 Liverpool 3
news Sun 8 May 2016
Fran Kirby and Drew Spence scored two goals apiece as Chelsea recovered from conceding in the first minute to win a topsy-turvy game at Wheatsheaf Park.
Katie Zelem's wonder strike after just 57 seconds was met by a stunning response from the Blues as we netted four times before the interval. Karen Carney rounded the keeper to score before Kirby scored a spectacular individual goal, which was added to by clinical strikes from Spence and Eniola Aluko.
The game looked to be over at half-time, but a double change for Liverpool was followed by two goals in quick succession from Caroline Weir and Emma Lundh, which left the Blues potentially facing an anxious final half-hour.
However, Kirby completed her brace and was soon followed in the two-goal club by Spence, who had the final say of an intense game in front of a packed crowd at Wheatsheaf Park.
Emma Hayes made three changes to the side which beat the Reds in their last outing, which was played out in near-freezing conditions in Widnes in stark contrast to the scorching sunshine that greeted the players at Wheatsheaf Park.
Hedvig Lindahl kept her place in goal, with Claire Rafferty replacing Ana Borges to make up the back four alongside Hannah Blundell, Millie Bright and Gilly Flaherty. In midfield, Spence came in for Jade Bailey to partner Katie Chapman in midfield, while Gemma Davison missed out against her former side, which meant an attacking-midfield trio of Aluko, Ji So-Yun and the returning Carney. Kirby retained her place in attack.
It was a disastrous start for the Blues, though, as Zelem was allowed far too much time and space on the edge of the penalty area, although the Reds midfielder deserves credit for a precise left-footed curler which left Lindahl grasping at thin air as it flew into the top corner. Only 57 seconds had been played.
The response from Chelsea was swift, however, and after a couple of half-chances went begging, Carney got us back on level terms after nine minutes. The winger timed her run between centre-back and full-back to perfection and the weight of pass from Kirby was inch-perfect, allowing her to take a touch around the keeper before rolling the ball into the back of the net.
The Blues continued to take the game to the Reds, but it wasn't all one-way traffic as Weir, who scored in the previous meeting between the sides, attempted to repeat Zelem's trick from the first minute. This time Lindahl was equal to it, producing a world-class save to keep the score level.
A sign of just how hot it was pitchside at Wheatsheaf Park came when the referee signalled a drinks break just past the 20-minute mark, which temporarily slowed Chelsea's momentum after Blundell and Ji had both attempted left-footed shots after cutting in from the right-hand side, where our wide players were causing Liverpool no end of trouble.
It was from this position that our second goal arrived, the quality of which cannot be underestimated. After exchanging passes with Aluko, Kirby was left with plenty to do, but she bided her time to get into the box, bursting past one player before putting another on her backside. The in-form striker then jinked back the other way to free up a yard of space to curl a left-footed shot into the far corner. Wonderful composure throughout and Wheatsheaf Park erupted as one in approval.
Back-to-back Carney corners almost led to goals for Ji and Chapman, who both went close, but we didn't have to wait long for the third goal to arrive. Kirby was involved once again, patiently holding onto the ball while Spence made her way into the box; the pass was precise, the finish clinically put through the keeper's leg.
The Blues had pressed high up the pitch throughout the first half and it paid dividends two minutes before the break as Aluko made it 4-1. Carney sneaked in to intercept a Liverpool pass and play the ball through for her England team-mate, who steadied herself and drilled in
As the second half began, the game looked to be following a similar pattern to the first 45 minutes as both Kirby and Carney went close to extending our advantage, but out of nothing Liverpool found themselves just a goal behind and threatening the unlikeliest of comebacks.
A double change gave them a wake-up call which saw first Weir, whose free-kick somehow crept past Lindahl at the far post, and then substitute Lundh score in the space of a couple of minutes.
Liverpool's ultra-attacking outlook may have paid off with those two goals, but they were left wide open at the back and Chelsea returned fire with a rapid double of our own which was simply in keeping with the thrill-a-minute game the 2,406 supporters at Wheatsheaf Park were treated to.
Blundell was the provider of goal number five for the Blues, running clear down the right to square for Kirby to deliver a precise finish into the far corner, and then the latter's tenacity and refusal to give up on a bouncing ball in the box freed up space for Spence to drill home her second of the game
After being given an almighty scare at the start of the second half, Hayes' side were able to return to their free-flowing best, with chances coming from both open play and set-pieces. Substitute Bethany England, in particular, was unfortunate not to add to our advantage, but it counted for little when the full-time whistle blew at the end of a stunning game.
Next up for the Blues is a trip to Wembley next Saturday as we take on Arsenal in the Women's FA Cup final.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Lindahl; Blundell, Bright, Flaherty, C Rafferty; Chapman (c) Spence; Aluko (Davison 65), Ji (Borges 74), Carney; Kirby (England 80)
Unused subs: Spencer, L Rafferty, Bailey
Goals: Carney 9, Kirby 29, 63, Spence 37, 66, Aluko 43
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Chamberlain; Harding (Pacheco 53), Bonner (c), Van Den Berg, Greenwood (Lundh 53); Ingle, Longhurst; Zelem, Van De Sanden, Weir; White (Hodson 71)
Unused subs: Gibbons, Green, Murray
Goals: Zelem 1, Weir 54, Lundh 56