Ladies report: Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 1
news Sun 10 Jul 2016
Eniola Aluko came off the bench to score the equaliser as Chelsea Ladies were held at home by Birmingham City in the FA Women's Super League.
After a tight first half of few clear-cut chances, the visitors went in front when a mistake at the back allowed Freda Ayisi to score the opener early in the second period. However, the lead proved to be shortlived as Ji So-Yun played in substitute Aluko, who had been on the pitch for less than five minutes, to score a brilliant leveller.
Emma Hayes made six alterations to the side which lost out to London Bees in the Continental Cup. Hedvig Lindahl returned in goal in place of Fran Kitching and Millie Bright replaced the suspended Niamh Fahey in defence. Both wing-backs were changed as Ana Borges and Claire Rafferty came in for Hannah Blundell and Beth England, while captain Katie Chapman and Ji were recalled in place of Alessia Russo and Aluko.
Chelsea zipped the ball around nicely in the early stages without really penetrating the Birmingham defence. Carney was the first to try her luck with a strike from distance, although it was easily dealt with by Berger, but the next effort from Bright had a bit more fizz to it and the keeper scrambled to her left to keep it out.
The two systems were cancelling each other out, which meant bright individual moments stood out even more. Ji got the crowd on their feet with a cheeky nutmeg before almost setting up a chance and the pace of Carney and Davison kept the Birmingham defence on their guard.
Set-pieces, too, were of vital importance and it was from a typically accurate Carney delivery that Bright headed towards the top corner. Unfortunately, her effort lacked power and it was a straightforward claim for Berger.
While the better chances were being fashioned by the home side, Birmingham weren't content to just sit back and soak up the pressure and they pushed the Blues high up the pitch. Chelsea's defence and midfield hunted in packs to counter the threat and some feisty challenges were coming in from both sides.
Strikes at goal were still largely coming from distance, with both Chapman and Davison going close with efforts that went over the bar and just wide of the post respectively, although a mazy run from Davison produced the best chance of the half. The angle was against the Blues No7, but she almost sneaked her shot in at the far post.
With a big 45 minutes ahead of them, the Blues' task in the second half became even tougher as a misplaced pass by Bailey gave Birmingham their first clear opening. Ayisi's touch was good and the finish left Lindahl with absolutely no chance.
Hayes responded by sending on Aluko to add pace to the attack and the move immediately paid dividends. Ji was the creator with a perfectly weighted pass to send her scampering clear of the defence and she showed great composure to steady herself before calmly side-footing the ball past the keeper.
There was a noticeable increase to the tempo of Chelsea's play both in and out of possession, with more zip to the passing and a greater intensity to their pressing. Birmingham were rattled and it was only superb last-ditch challenges which denied Carney and Ji from giving the home side the lead as the game entered the final 30 minutes.
Davison went even closer when she took an outrageous Carney pass into her stride and cut inside her marker to shoot inches wide of the far post. Having shifted back out wide following Aluko's introduction, it was clear the Blues No7 was becoming increasingly influential as the game wore on. One extravagant turn gave her another clear sight of goal, but this time her shot was never threatening the target.
Chelsea huffed and puffed, but we simply could not find another way past a defence which has conceded only five goals all season.
The game ended on a sour note when Chapman received her second booking of the game, which rules the skipper out of next Sunday's game against Arsenal at Wheatsheaf Park, but the Blues were left ruing the two points dropped against the third-placed side in the WSL.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Lindahl; Bright, Flaherty, Bailey; Borges (Blundell 80), Spence (Aluko 48), Carney, Chapman (c), C Rafferty; Ji, Davison
Unused subs: Spencer, England, Russo, Rolandsen
Goals: Aluko 52
Booked: Davison, Chapman
Birmingham City: Berger, Windell, Carter, Harrop, Ayisi, Hegerberg, Stringer, Lawley, Wellings, Westwood (Peplow 20), Mannion
Unused subs: Baggaley, Linnett, Edwards, Brown, Johnson
Goal: Ayisi 48