Goals from Drew Spence, Fran Kirby and Bethany England ensured Chelsea Women made a winning start to the 2018/19 campaign.
Emma Hayes selected two of our summer signings for our first competitive fixture of the new season, with Jess Carter lining up at right-back and Sophie Ingle starting in midfield. There was a change in shape from last season, too, as Hayes went with a back four in a 4-3-3 system. Hedvig Lindahl started in goal in front of Carter, Millie Bright, Maren Mjelde and Jonna Andersson, with Karen Carney and Maria Thorisdottirin joining Ingle in midfield. Erin Cuthbert, Spence and Kirby made up the front three.
The visitors, managed by former England Lionesses manager Hope Powell, lined up with three ex-Blues in their starting line-up and a further three on the bench. Dani Buet, who captains the Seagulls, Laura Rafferty and new signing Victoria Williams all started the match, with Jenna Legg, Sophie Perry and Jodie Brett among the substitutes.
Although our meeting with the Seagulls last term, which took place away from home, ultimately finished in a comfortable looking 3-0 victory, that did not tell the full story of a dogged performance by our opponents as they frustrated us for large spells.
It was a similar story this time around as a clear-cut opportunities proved hard to come by for Hayes' side. The best openings were coming from out wide, with Brighton happy to give us more space there while they remained narrow and compact in the middle.
Thorisdottir had our first chance, heading powerfully off target from a cross by Andersson, and the Swede followed suit soon after when she fired a Kirby cut-back wide of the far post via a deflection.
On the rare occasions we were able to cut through the Brighton rearguard, the impressive Williams was usually in place to snuff out the danger, as she did when Cuthbert threatened to break clear.
It wasn't all one-way traffic, however, as the visitors twice threatened to break the deadlock through Kayleigh Green. Her first chance was a gift from a weak back pass which Lindahl brilliantly kept out, while the second was a low shot which whizzed just the wrong side of the near post.
Having failed to make the most of a Chelsea mistake, Brighton were soon punished for one of their own, which came right on the stroke of half-time just as they looked to get in at the break all-square. A loose pass out from a goal-kick went straight to Kirby, who wasted no time moving the ball on to Spence to curl home a brilliant opener.
On the balance of play, it was certainly justified, but the visitors had cause to feel aggrieved having just enjoyed their best spell of the half. Their frustration was merely exacerbated after the break, as Chelsea kept hold of the ball with consummate ease and continued to create the bulk of the chances.
Just as in the first half, Thorisdottir was the first to threaten the Brighton goal, although the Norwegian international was left frustrated at her poor connection with a Kirby pull-back, when surely any power behind her shot would have doubled our advantage.
The provider turned striker soon after, curling a shot wide shortly before Spence was denied a second with a powerful low strike, but Kirby wouldn't have to wait long for the goal her performance deserved.
It was inspired by a moment of brilliance from substitute Bachmann, whose first contribution after coming off the bench was to leave her marker for dead on the box before firing a powerful shot across the keeper. Harris could only parry, and in nipped Kirby to prod the ball home at the back stick.
Bachmann had only just entered the field along with Adelina Engman, on for debut, and a third substitution followed soon after the goal as Bethany England made her return to action after a year on loan to Liverpool. She so very nearly made the perfect start, almost diverting a cross past Harris at the far post, but instead of being home and hosed, a moment of slack marking at the back allowed Brighton to pull a goal back. Aileen Whelan was the scorer, powerfully heading past Lindahl, to ensure it was still all to play for in the closing stages.
However, there was to be no grandstand finish from the visitors and instead the game was put out of their reach by the goal England had been threatening since coming on. Andersson was the creator, swinging over a wonderful cross from the left which Chelsea's No.15 emphatically headed home from close range.
That was the perfect end to an intriguing match. At times the Blues were simply unplayable, but our visitors were always in the game it was our quality in the offensive third which made all the difference. After a three-goal showing to start the season, it's on to the Hive next, where we continue our Continental Tyres Cup group campaign with a match against London Bees next Sunday.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Lindahl; Carter (Engman 64), Bright, Mjelde, Andersson; Carney (c), Ingle, Thorisdottir; Cuthbert (England 71), Spence (Bachmann 64), Kirby
Unused subs Durack, Cooper, Bailey
Scorers Spence 45, Kirby 69, England 88
Brighton & Hove Albion Harris, Roe, Gibbons, Buet (c), Rafferty, A Whelan, Natkiel (Umotong 59), Nilden, Green, Williams, Simpkins (Brett 77)
Unused subs Gillett, F Whelan, Legg, Perry
Scorer Whelan 78