A late goal from substitute Adelina Engman earned the Blues a point on the South Coast, but Emma Hayes will feel her side created enough chances to have made it two wins from two at the start of the Barclays Women’s Super League season.
Our trip to Brighton in the WSL last season had seen us win 4-0, although all the goals came in the final 25 minutes of the contest, and this match had a similar feel as we dominated for large periods and fashioned the better opportunities on a swelteringly hot day in Crawley.
Megan Walsh in the Brighton goal was called upon to make a couple of fine saves, most notably from Drew Spence, but it was largely a case of the Blues failing to hit the target – and we were almost made to pay when Aileen Whelan put the home side in front with just a few minutes left to play, netting with their only shot on target.
However, Engman came off the bench to deliver our equaliser, courtesy of a smart finish from close range, which secured us a draw that was the very least our performance deserved.
The starting XI from our opening-weekend victory over Tottenham Hotspur sported only two changes, both of which came down the flanks. Jonna Andersson returned at left-back in place of Hannah Blundell and over on the opposite wing Erin Cuthbert replaced Engman.
Hayes deviated slightly from the diamond midfield she had selected the previous week, switching to a 4-1-2-3 formation. Ann-Katrin Berger lined up behind a back four of Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, captain Magdalena Eriksson and Andersson; Sophie Ingle was once again the deepest of the midfielders, giving attacking license to Spence and Ji So-Yun; and the attacking trio offered plenty of pace and guile in the form of Guro Reiten and Cuthbert either side of last week’s goalscorer Bethany England.
The visitors, as they have done in recent times, had a couple of ex-Chelsea Women players in their line-up, as Victoria Williams was selected at centre-back and Dani Bowman, better known to our supporters as Buet before her marriage in the summer, formed part of the midfield.
On an absolute scorcher of a Sunday afternoon, the type of day which typically brings families to the South Coast in search of sand rather than soccer, those present at the People’s Pension Stadium in Crawley had to be patient as both sides felt their way into the contest.
Berger was the first keeper called into action as she easily dealt with a Lea Le Garrec free-kick delivered into the danger zone, but once the Blues found our rhythm we created three chances in quick succession either side of the 20-minute mark, at least one of which should have been taken.
The first fell to Bright, who blazed over the bar when well placed, and then it was the turn of England to miss the target as she broke away down the left and slid a finish that crept just past the far post. At the third time of asking we tested the goalkeeper, as Cuthbert forced Megan Walsh into a comfortable save from a chance which came about as a result of our strong press putting the Brighton rearguard under pressure.
While Reiten was buzzing around up front without quite managing to impact the game in the final third, the same couldn’t be said of the two players alongside her in attack. The link-up between Cuthbert and England was arguably our most potent attacking outlet last term and they almost combined to put us in front after 30 minutes as the latter controlled a long pass superbly and laid the ball into the path of Cuthbert, who was denied an almost certain goal by a vital last-ditch challenge by Felicity Gibbons.
The Scot could be forgiven for thinking she wasn’t having the best of luck in the first half, as she once again came within a whisker of scoring a few minutes before the break. Mjelde may prefer playing more centrally, but her delivery from out wide is nearly always on the money and the Norwegian’s teasing cross from the right was met on the stretch by Cuthbert at the back stick. While she made good contact with the ball, she couldn’t quite keep it down and Brighton’s defence breathed a sigh of relief.
The same could also be said of Bright on the stroke of half-time, as she gave the ball away cheaply which allowed Le Garrec to smash a shot that didn’t miss the target by much, and the two sides went in all-square.
Neither manager opted for any changes during the interval and the second half began with Chelsea in the ascendancy once more, and it was noticeable that both Ji and Spence were pushing higher up the pitch as we went in search of the opener. It almost came five minutes after the restart, as we won a free-kick for a Bowman foul on Reiten that was worthy of a yellow card, and the resulting set-piece dropped to Spence for a low shot from the edge of the box which Walsh pushed wide of the post.
That proved to be the last contribution by the long-serving Blues midfielder as she made way for Ramona Bachmann in the game’s first change. The intent from Hayes was clear to see and it was reflected by an increased urgency from her side in the attacking third, although the intensity of Brighton’s pressing also upped, resulting in a scrappier contest.
When the quality was there, however, it typically came from those wearing black and one such moment was delivered by the left boot of Reiten after she was picked out by Bright. Her cross was hard and low across the six-yard box, crying out for just the slightest of touches, but a sliding England was only an inch or two away from turning the ball home. The clock ticked to 80 and it was looking like another of those frustrating afternoons we endured last autumn.
In fact, things were about to get worse, as our missed opportunities came back to bite us when Brighton took the lead with only six minutes remaining. There appeared to be little danger when we cleared a corner kick, but the home side kept the ball alive and it dropped to Whelan to bury a right-footed finish into the far corner.
Both sides immediately made changes – Brighton to shore things up, Chelsea to throw on Maria Thorisdottir to add energy to the midfield, having brought on Engman just before the goal – and the game was slowed down by a frustrated challenge by Bright which earned her a yellow card.
That frustration soon turned to elation, though, as the Blues drew level bang on 90 minutes and it was one of the substitutes who came up trumps. Brighton failed to deal with a deep cross and if the build-up was a little scrappy, the same could not be said of a lovely finish from close range by Engman.
It looked like we were going to win it right at the death when Thorisdottir was all alone in the box and she hammered a shot towards the corner, only for the post to deny her. However, the assistant referee’s raised flag meant it would have been ruled out anyway. A 1-1 draw was the least we deserved, considering the chances created, but the late equaliser meant it felt just as much a point gained as it did two lost.
Attention now turns to the Continental Tyres League Cup, as we return to Kingsmeadow for the first time this season to open our group-stage campaign against West Ham United. That game takes place on Sunday 22 September at 2pm.
Brighton Walsh, Lundorf, Williams, Kerkdijk, Gibbons, Connolly, Bowman (c), Le Garrec (Simpkins 85), Brazil, Umotong (Green 65), Whelan
Unused subs Harris, Whelan, Barton, Natkiel, Nilden
Booked Bowman 50
Scorer Whelan 84
Chelsea (4-1-2-3) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Ingle (Thorisdottir 86); Ji, Spence (Bachman 65); Cuthbert (Engman 82), England, Reiten
Unused subs Telford, Asante, Carter, Cooper
Booked Bright 86
Scorer Engman 90+1
Referee Lee Collins
- We’re back at Kingsmeadow on Sunday 22 September for the visit of West Ham United. Women’s season tickets are available just £49 for the whole season. Junior fans (aged under 20) as well as senior fans (aged 65 or over) can enjoy the whole season for just £5!