Ladies report: Birmingham City 0 Chelsea 2
news Sat 10 Feb 2018
A poacher's finish from Fran Kirby in the first half was followed by a sumptuous strike by Ji So-Yun after the break to give the Blues a deserved victory.
One of our best performances of 2017 came at Solihull Moors in June as we wrapped up the Spring Series title, and this effort was equally impressive. We carved through the home defence at will, and the only surprise when the half-time whistle blew was that our lead was only one, courtesy of Kirby's 14th of the season. However, a wonderful effort from Ji with 20 minutes to go ensured we moved to the top of the standings ahead of Manchester City's game against Liverpool on Sunday.
Emma Hayes made two changes from the team which lined up against City in our last Women's Super League 1 fixture. Magda Eriksson was replaced at the back by Maria Thorisdottir and in midfield there was a return for Katie Chapman, fresh from scoring twice in the Women's FA Cup against London Bees, in place of Maren Mjelde.
It became clear very early on that we would have plenty of joy in behind, with Birmingham opting to play with a high defensive line against the pace of Kirby and Ramona Bachmann. The former almost forged the first opening when she was played in by Thorisdottir, and only a last-ditch challenge denied her a shooting chance.
Even set-pieces were causing issues for the home defence, and one well-worked effort almost created the opening goal. The ball dropped nicely for Anita Asante on the edge of the box, but her connection wasn't as crisp as she'd have hoped for and the chance was gone.
The Blues missed an even better opportunity to go ahead after 15 minutes following a wonderful bit of play by Millie Bright. The England centre-half slid in to intercept the ball and the ball stayed glued to her toe as she got up to ping a wonderful ball through the Birmingham defence for Bachmann. Our No23 attempted to take the ball around Berger but the keeper got down to deny her.
We didn't have to wait long for our opener, though. Crystal Dunn was heavily involved, cutting inside from the left flank and attempting a shot which was blocked by a defender, only for the ball to ricochet straight to Kirby. The Blues' leading scorer doesn't miss from that range, and we were deservedly in front.
The chances continued to come thick and fast, typically beginning with a ball in behind. Hannah Blundell was desperately unlucky not to score with a fizzing half-volley that was blocked on the line, while Drew Spence was left to rue her failure to get her head over the ball as she blazed over when well placed.
When the half-time whistle blew, the home side could consider themselves fortunate to be trailing by just the one goal, having created little of note to threaten Hedvig Lindahl, whose defence remained strong throughout the opening 45.
The second half began in much the same manner of the first, with Chelsea on the attack, and inevitably it was Kirby with the first chance of note. The Blues No14 had plenty of work to do on the left-hand side of the penalty box, but she slipped the ball through the legs of Mannion and lashed a shot which swerved wide of the target.
However, a one-goal lead is always precarious and a reminder came when one misplaced pass gave Birmingham their clearest sight at Lindahl's goal. Elen White was the recipient and her drilled shot didn't miss the far corner by much. The England striker had another chance on the hour-mark, too, and this time she did hit the target, but Lindahl was equal to her well-struck shot.
The third-quarter of the game was played out with Chelsea enjoying the majority of the possession without fashioning clear-cut chances, but the introduction of Erin Cuthbert added spark to our attacking play and she won a free-kick which offered Ji a good opportunity to strike at goal. Her effort, however, was drilled wide of the target.
Having not heeded that warning, Birmingham were punished by the South Korean, who made the victory safe with 20 minutes to go. How Dunn's low pass across the area made it all the way to the edge of the box remains a mystery, but the finish from Ji was an absolute peach as she clipped a sumptuous left-footed strike into the top corner.
Hayes made her intentions clear straight after the goal, bringing on Mjelde and Karen Carney in quick succession, but the Blues continued to press for a third and were unfortunate not to get it when Cuthbert was denied by a sensational stop by Berger when clean through on goal.
It mattered not, for an excellent performance was capped at the other end by a clean sheet, kept with the minimum fuss and with few chances given up to the Birmingham attack.
Next up for Chelsea Ladies is a home game against Doncaster Rovers Belles in the Women's FA Cup, which takes place on Sunday 18 February at 2pm. We're back in WSL1 action a few days after that with a trip to Yeovil Town.
Birmingham City Berger, Carter, Sargeant (Williams h/t), Mannion, Harrop (c), Mayling (Stringer 80), Ladd, Ewers, Wellings (Quinn 75), Follis, White
Unused subs Hampton, Westwood, Stringer, Cusack, Ayisi
Chelsea (3-4-1-2) Lindahl; Bright, Asante, Thorisdottir; Blundell, Chapman (c), Ji (Carney 75), Dunn; Spence (Mjelde 71); Kirby, Bachmann (Cuthbert 63)
Unused subs Telford, Davison, Andersson
Scorers Kirby 17, Ji 70