Women's report: Durham 0 Chelsea 1

A first-half goal from Ji So-Yun was enough to seal the Blues' spot in the semi-finals of the Women's FA Cup after a hard-fought win over Durham.

The Championship side produced a spirited performance in front of their own supporters and while it remained a competitive contest throughout, Chelsea enjoyed the majority of possession and created the better opportunities, as well as remaining tight at the back.

The decisive moment came just before the half-hour mark and with our first shot on target. Erin Cuthbert was the creator, clipping a ball into the box which evaded everyone and fell to Ji, who showed great composure to steady herself and confidently finish past Hannah Reid.

That proved to be enough to give us the win our performance merited and our quest for a third FA Cup win in the past five years now reaches the last four, with the draw due to be made tomorrow morning.

Emma Hayes made five changes to the side which defeated Liverpool in midweek, replacing Ann-Katrin Berger, Jonna Andersson, Drew Spence, Karen Carney and Ramona Bachmann with Carly Telford, Ali Riley, Millie Bright, Ji and Bethany England. An attacking 4-1-2-3 system saw Telford lining up behind a back four of Hannah Blundell, Maren Mjelde, Magda Eriksson and Riley, with Jess Carter again deployed in a deep midfield role. That meant a less familiar attacking position for Bright alongside Ji, although our captain for the day did start her career as a striker in Sheffield United's youth side, and the three forward positions were filled by Fran Kirby, England and Cuthbert.

Sophie Ingle, who has been a regular throughout the first campaign of her second spell as a Blue, was absent after her father passed away earlier this week, with her team-mates wearing black armbands today as a mark of respect. 

There was a packed crowd at New Ferens Park for one of the biggest games in Durham's history, with many supporters still queuing up for tickets as referee David Richardson blew for kick-off, and any latecomers would have missed some early drama caused by the blustery conditions.

Set-pieces were always going to be a factor for the home side, with plenty of height in their starting XI, but it was a rather more direct effort which almost gave them the breakthrough. Lisa Robertson swung a wide free-kick into the danger zone and it picked up in the wind, forcing Telford to back-pedal and tip the ball onto the crossbar.

The artificial surface and swirling wind both played a part in the Blues struggling to piece together many telling attacking moves during the opening 45, despite enjoying plenty of possession in the final third, and though the class difference between the sides was evident, Durham were bridging the gap with the type of dogged display one associates with cup contests between sides from different divisions.

However, their rearguard was finally breached from the first moment of quality produced by Hayes' side, and it was from a player with quite the pedigree in this competition. Ji, our goalscorer in the 2015 FA Cup final at Wembley, was found by a deep cross from Cuthbert and she took her time to bring the ball down and side-foot her finish past Reid.

DURHAM (A) FA Women's Cup 18/19

Highlights from our FA Women's Cup match away to Durham.

That goal came just before half-hour mark and the rest of the opening period was seen out with the minimum of fuss, but after the break it was clear that the manager had given her side a geeing up as we came out playing with more urgency. Within 10 minutes of the restart both Bright and Ji had smashed long-range shots, the first of which called Reid into action and the second, a flick up and left-foot volley by the South Korean, didn't miss by much.

That period of action was followed by an attacking substitution from Hayes, as Bachmann came on in place of Blundell, with Carter dropping back to right-back. The positive move almost paid immediate dividends, as we created several chances in quick succession without reward. After Bright narrowly missed the target from a diving header, Bachmann was denied by a last-ditch challenge and then Cuthbert found the woodwork with a cross which skipped up off the turf.

Cuthbert was one of those denied by the woodwork

There was almost a second for the Blues, as Ji blasted a free-kick from distance which the keeper almost juggled over her goal-line and Bachmann fired a volley against the woodwork. A failure to make the game safe almost came back to haunt us as Durham almost found an equaliser with a late hit-and-hope effort in stoppage time, but the final whistle brought with it huge cheers from the visiting fans.

Now, with a place in the semi-finals secured, attention briefly turns to the draw for the last four, which takes place on Monday morning at 8.30am, live on BBC Breakfast. Then it's the first leg of our Champions League quarter-final tie with Paris Saint-Germain, which takes place on Thursday evening. The second leg takes place the following Wednesday and free tickets are available for those wishing to attend, with all the details found here

Durham (4-3-3) Reid; Christon (Dixon 86), Wilson (c), Salicki, Hill; Robson, Hepple, Robertson; Holmes (Gears 52), Ness, Roberts (Cottam 86)
Unused subs Borthwick, Knott

Chelsea (4-1-2-3) Telford; Blundell (Bachmann 58), Mjelde, Eriksson, Riley; Carter; Bright (c), Ji; Kirby, England, Cuthbert (Engman 86)
Unused subs Berger, Carney, Andersson, Cooper, Spence
Scorer Ji 28

Crowd 1,629
Referee David Richardson

Secure your seat for our home Women's Champions League match against PSG or the last home league game of the season when the Women host West Ham on Sunday 31 March. Tickets are half-price (£3 adults & £1.50 juniors).

Any Chelsea fans attending the away game against PSG on Wednesday 27 March can apply for free tickets.  

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