Ladies report: Birmingham City 0 Chelsea 2
News Sat 3 Jun 2017
Chelsea Ladies secured the FA Women's Super League Spring Series title with an away victory over Birmingham City in the last game of the season.
A Karen Carney first-half spot-kick gave the Blues the lead and Fran Kirby, who had won the penalty for the opening goal, added a poacher's second to seal the result and ensure Emma Hayes and her squad would be celebrating as champions at the final whistle.
For the second game running Hayes made five changes to her starting line-up, reverting to the same team which beat Liverpool 7-0 a week earlier. That meant both wing-backs were changed from the midweek win over Bristol City, Gemma Davison and Crystal Dunn replacing Hannah Blundell and Beth England. It was also all change for the front three, with Erin Cuthbert, Drew Spence and Ramona Bachmann making way as Ji So-Yun and Carney lined up behind Kirby. The goalkeeper, defence and centre-midfield all remained unchanged.
The game got under way in bright sunshine at Solihull Moors and both sides won early corners but failed to capitalise, although there were signs that Chelsea's high pressing would cause Birmingham problems.
Millie Bright did well to intervene when the home side threatened to get in behind the Blues back line with a flicked-on long ball, and Birmingham continued to pursue an early ball over the top for Ellie Brazil in the opening exchanges, compared to Chelsea's more patient play.
After quarter-of-an-hour Chelsea started to enjoy more of the possession, only the linesman's flag denying Dunn the chance to cross from a promising position after latching on to Deanna Cooper's lofted ball down the left channel.
Dunn did get the chance to cross soon afterwards and it provided the game's first sight of goal. Carney did well in midfield to evade the opposition challenges and release Dunn on the left. Her cross was only cleared as far as Ji, but the South Korean couldn't keep her volley down.
A better chance would follow, though, as the referee award a penalty to Chelsea when Kirby was flattened by Birmingham goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger, having knocked the ball past her running towards goal. Berger was shown a yellow card for her robust challenge.
Carney stepped up to the spot and made no mistake from 12 yards, calmly slotting the ball down the middle as Berger dived to her right to score what felt like a crucial goal in the title pursuit.
Chelsea twice threatened a second soon after, Kirby nearly breaking free in the area with a clever turn and Bright inches from getting her head on a dangerous Carney free-kick.
The high press perhaps should have made it 2-0, as Kirby was alert to intercept the ball and exchange passes with Ji to turn the Birmingham defence, but Davison couldn't put her back-post header on target when picked out by an excellent Dunn cross. That tactic again came close to paying dividends, this time with Maren Mjelde winning the ball high up and trying to catch Berger unprepared with a long-range lob, but the Birmingham keeper recovered just in time.
As the half wore on Chelsea started to exert increasing dominance, with the combination of Carney and Dunn on the left continuing to look like our most likely route to goal and Ji's roaming presence also starting to ask questions of the Birmingham defence.
The closest we came to adding a second before the break came right on the brink of half-time, Ji laying off a ball in the box for Kirby on the penalty spot, but the goalkeeper got just enough on her finish to deny a goal and scramble to gather the loose ball.
Chelsea maintained our dominance into the second half, Mjelde going close early on as her header from a Carney corner was deflected wide.
It didn't take long for the increasing Blues pressure to extend our lead, though. A patient build up on the edge of the box after 13 minutes after the restart saw Davison find space on the right and when Berger failed to deal with her driven low cross, seeing the ball spin off the far post, Kirby reacted quickest to mop up the loose ball, readjust her feet smartly and finish into the open net. Chelsea had one hand on the trophy.
Birmingham responded by bringing on a second striker with the game's first substitution and Hayes followed suit with Chelsea's first change immediately, Carney switching to the right side as Davison made way for Bachmann, who slotted in alongside Ji behind Kirby.
Mjelde came close again following the best move of the game. Clever work in the box from Gilly Flaherty and Kirby ended with Ji rolling the ball backwards into Mjelde's path, but our No18 fired her effort narrowly over.
There was a wide round of applause around the stadium as the excellent Kirby exited the pitch with six minutes remaining, replaced by Spence.
Substitute Bachmann nearly provided the icing on the cake in injury time, weaving her way through the Birmingham defence and into the penalty area with a fine run, but Berger rushed out to smother the ball at the last moment.
Birmingham pressed on for a goal in the closing stages, but Chelsea held firm and rarely looked troubled as they saw out the game to final whistle, which sparked the celebrations for the travelling Blues, now officially champions of England.
Birmingham City: Ann-Katrin Berger, Paige Williams, Meaghan Sargeant, Jess Carter (Charlie Wellings 63), Kerys Harrop (c), Sarah Mayling, Abbeyleigh Stringer, Marisa Ewers (Freda Ayisi 70), Rachel Williams, Aoife Mannion, Ellie Brazil
Unused subs: Sophie Baggaley, Andrine Hegerberg, Chloe Peplow, Connie Schofield, Emily Westwood
Booked: Berger 21
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Carly Telford; Gilly Flaherty, Deanna Cooper, Millie Bright; Gemma Davison (Ramona Bachmann 64), Maren Mjelde, Katie Chapman (c), Crystal Dunn; Ji So-Yun (Erin Cuthbert 90), Karen Carney; Fran Kirby (Drew Spence 84)
Unused subs: Fran Kitching, Hannah Blundell, Beth England
Scorers: Carney 22, Kirby 58