Chelsea Women began the new year as we finished 2018, making it nine wins on the bounce thanks to a comfortable victory over Everton in front of a big crowd at Kingsmeadow.
Tickets for our first match of what we hope is another prosperous year were free for all supporters, and those who took the club up on that offer were rewarded with a brilliant attacking performance and some high-quality goals.
The tone was set early on by Bethany England, who took her team-leading tally for 2018/19 to 12 with a tidy finish after only six minutes after a neat move involving Erin Cuthbert, but we had to wait until the final third of the contest for the scoreline to reflect our dominance. Drew Spence made it 2-0 on the hour with a close-range finish and then Hannah Blundell's curler from outside the box put the game out of Everton's reach.
The Blues were last in action on 12 December when we took on Tottenham Hotspur in our final Continental Tyres League Cup group game and for this first fixture of the new year it was a much-changed line-up. Only four players retained their spot in the starting XI: Magda Eriksson, Cuthbert, Karen Carney and England, who was selected to lead the line after scoring a brace in each of her final three appearances of 2018.
Hedvig Lindahl started in goal, playing behind a back four of Blundell, Millie Bright, Eriksson and Jonna Anderson. Sophie Ingle and Spence were the deepest of our five midfielders, with Cuthbert, Ji So-Yun and Carney selected in attacking roles to support lone forward England. Fran Kirby was among the substitutes and in the matchday squad for the first time since our 2-0 win over West Ham United at the start of November.
The tone was set from the get-go by Bright, whose crunching challenge to snuff out an Everton counter and win back possession showed we meant business, and the centre-half gave another indication of her talent a few minutes later as she set up our first attack of the game. A pin-point pass from deep found the run of Ji, who took the ball down superbly and looked set to score until a last-ditch challenge sent her strike looping over the bar.
We didn't have to wait long for our opener, though, and it came from the familiar source of the in-form England. It was a wonderful move, too, as our No15 cushioned a cross to Cuthbert, who immediately returned it into her path for a clinical left-footed finish which left Kirsty Levell with no chance.
The Toffees keeper was kept busy in the early stages of this contest, holding onto shots from Spence and Carney from either side of the box and then deflecting a Blundell effort past the post after the full-back had been sent clear down the right.
Everton responded with their first meaningful attack of the half, but Elise Hughes headed wide when well placed, and then the game returned to its previous pattern of the Blues dominating possession and carving out chances at will.
The closest we came to adding to our lead was from a pair of long-range strikes. Bright had earlier tried her luck with a left-footer from range, but when Ji laid the ball into her path on her stronger foot our No4 connected sweetly with a thunderous hit that cannoned off the crossbar. Had it been a few inches lower, the Goal of the Season competition may well have been sewed up in January.
Then it was Cuthbert who fancied a pop from distance, skidding a right-footer towards the far corner. On this occasion, Levell managed to get a touch to it, but the Everton keeper was indebted to the woodwork once again as the ball hit the far post and rolled across the six-yard box before being cleared to safety.
In between those two efforts, Everton had produced their best effort of the match, when Hughes managed to get something on a dangerous cross to send the ball towards goal, only for Lindahl to get her left foot to it and keep us in front going into the interval.
The 15-minute interlude between halves gave Blues fans an opportunity to welcome new signing Ann-Katrin Berger to Kingsmeadow following her arrival at the end of last week from Birmingham City, and she was warmly greeted during her pitch walk. The winners of the fantastic prizes on offer were also announced, which included two season tickets for 2019/20 and a signed Chelsea shirt.
Once the action got back underway in the second half it was a similar story to what had played out over the 45 minutes of action, which is to say that Chelsea were the dominant side and Bright had her heart set on scoring a screamer. Her latest effort, just a few minutes after the break, was a first-time howitzer which Levell brilliant palmed away to safety. Our No4 was left, once again, to “look on the bright side of life”, as the popular terrace chant goes at Kingsmeadow.
With the second goal not forthcoming, the Blues players could have been forgiven for showing a lack of patience, but they kept to the task and finally the reward came as the game hit the hour mark and it was the simplest of finishes. Carney's corner kick made it all the way to an umarked Spence in the six-yard box and she could hardly miss from that range, giving us the buffer in terms of the scoreline which our performance had merited.
It should have been three moments later, as another intricate move at pace left the Everton defence with no answers and Cuthbert was able to run free to get on the end of a through-ball from Ji, but her finish whizzed just the wrong side of the far post. Blundell didn't make the same mistake when our next chance dropped her way, curling home a low shot from the edge of the box which left Levell with no chance as it nestled into the far corner.
The substitutions came thick and fast after that, with Kirby, Ali Riley and Anita Asante all called upon from the bench, but there was no let up in the intensity from the home side and both Lindahl and England threw themselves at shots in the space of a few seconds to preserve the clean sheet.
Other than that episode, we kept the Toffees out with the minimum of fuss, making it nine straight wins in all competitions, each of them achieved without conceding. Indeed, we are yet to see our net breached since mid-October, 12 games ago.
We're back at Kingsmeadow again on Wednesday night, with a place in the Continental Tyres League Cup semi-finals at stake when we welcome Reading to KT1. It's a 7.30pm kick-off for that one, which will be followed by our next WSL fixture on Sunday when we travel to Arsenal.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Lindahl; Blundell, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson (Riley 69); Ingle, Spence (Asante 75); Cuthbert (Kirby 69), Ji, Carney; England
Unused subs Telford, Carter, Cooper, Engman
Scorers England 6, Spence 60, Blundell 68
Everton Levell, Turner (Worm 78), Brougham, George (c), Boye-Hlorkah (Kaagman 69), Magill, Kelly (Stringer 86], James, Hinds, Finnigan, Hughes
Unused subs Flaherty, Bruinenberg
Referee Lee Brennan