Ladies Report: Chelsea 2 Sunderland 1

First-half headers from Katie Chapman and Fran Kirby helped the Blues to come back from a goal down to close the gap at the top of the FA Women's Super League 1 table.

An entertaining match began with Sunderland taking the lead against the run of play through Stephanie Roche, but a thunderous header by Chapman was followed by a more delicate effort by Kirby. The end result was the same on both occasions and the Blues moved within four points of Manchester City after they drew 0-0 with Liverpool earlier in the evening.

Having not hit the back of the net in their past two matches, Emma Hayes named an attacking line-up against the side we beat 4-0 on the final day of last season to clinch the WSL title. The back four and goalkeeper was unchanged, which meant Hannah Blundell, Niamh Fahey, Gilly Flaherty and Claire Rafferty lined up in front of Hedvig Lindahl.

Drew Spence, Millie Bright and Beth England were the trio to miss out in midfield, with Ji So-Yun, Karen Carney and Gemma Davison restored to the starting 11 as part of an ultra-attacking midfield quintet which also included captain Katie Chapman and Eniola Aluko. Fran Kirby, the lone forward, was certainly not short of support.

Chelsea began brightly, threatening Rachael Laws' goal as early as the second minute when Flaherty sent a free header over the bar from Carney's pin-point corner, but the visitors were first to register on the scoresheet. Beth Mead, who scored a hat-trick against the Blues last term, managed to wriggle free of Flaherty before passing across goal to Roche, who steered a low, left-footed finish across Lindahl.

The lead proved to be short-lived; having failed to heed the warning in the second minute, Sunderland left Chapman completely unmarked as Carney swung in a free-kick. The delivery was immaculate and the skipper sent a bullet header into the top left-hand corner. Laws didn't even move.

Chelsea continued to threaten from both open play and set-pieces, with Carney at the heart of most of our best attacking play. The Blues No8 just failed to make sufficient contact on a low cross from Blundell to really trouble the keeper, but her corner a few minutes later was headed down by Chapman and turned towards goal by Kirby. A deflection just took it wide of the post.

Another sublime pass by Carney sent Aluko through on goal and although the chance wasn't taken, the latter turned provider moments later to help the Blues take the lead. After making ground down the left, Aluko cut back onto her right foot to swing a cross onto the head of Kirby, who glanced it up and over the keeper and into the far corner. It was her seventh goal of the season.

Despite our dominance, Sunderland offered a reminder of their threat when Mead was almost sent through on goal. Lindahl, however, reacted quickly to race off her line and time the interception to perfection.

An injury to Rafferty saw Hayes forced into a substitution after 26 minutes, Ana Borges coming on in a straight swap for the left-back, but there was little change to the flow of the game as Chelsea launched wave after wave of attacks. Unfortunately, Laws wasn't forced into any meaningful action as Ji, Davison and Aluko all struck shots wide of the target. The latter's chance was a particularly good one, as a velvet touch took her through on goal, only for her vicious strike to find the side-netting.

After a slow start to the second half, the game came to life 10 minutes after the interval with a brilliant run by Aluko injecting some urgency to the Chelsea attack. Showing tremendous balance, the No9 held off two challenges before unleashing a powerful right-footed strike which Laws did well to claw away.

Having left the door open to the occasional Sunderland counter in the opening 45 minutes, Chelsea were noticeably harder to break down in the second half while still retaining much of the attacking threat. After Aluko was denied for the second time in the half, this time by a last-ditch challenge, Chapman sent in a cross which Kirby met with a bicycle kick. Although she made clean contact with the ball, her effort sailed over the bar.

Ji went even closer after being sent through by Kirby, a wonderful first touch presenting her with a chance to send a left-footed finish across the keeper, but the finish was just off target. Then it was all about Aluko's personal duel with the goalkeeper; having sent a shot wide of the opposite post she then saw Laws palm away another thumping effort before producing the save of the evening to deny the Chelsea No9 for the umpteenth time.

Just as in the first half, set-pieces continued to pose a huge threat to the Sunderland defence and a carbon copy of our first goal almost resulted in another for Chapman – on this occasion, though, the header lacked the power and direction to test Laws.

Both Kirby and substitute Drew Spence threatened late on and a one-goal margin of victory was the least our performance deserved. However, after two straight defeats it was a return to winning ways to close the gap on leaders Manchester City, who we trail by four points with a game in hand. The WSL now takes a break for the next month, with the Blues returning to action against Sunderland on Wednesday 29 June.

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Lindahl; Blundell, Fahey, Flaherty, C Rafferty (Borges 26); Ji (Spence 70), Chapman (c); Davison (England 80), Carney, Aluko; Kirby
Unused subs: Spencer, L Rafferty, Bright, Bailey
Goals: Chapman 8, Kirby 21

Sunderland (4-5-1): Laws; Brown, Bannon (c), Sharp, Williams; Staniforth; Ramshaw (Johnston 61), Chaplen, McDougall (Furness 67), Roche; Mead
Unused subs: Olsen, Joice, Beer, Potts, Holmes
Goal: Roche 6
Booked: Furness, Brown

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