The start of 2019 is serving up back-to-back home games for Chelsea Women and tonight we host Reading in a Continental Tyres Cup knock-out tie.
Kick-off is 7.30pm and here is all the background needed ahead of the tie…
Chelsea Women made it nine wins on the bounce as we returned to action in 2019 with a handsome victory over Everton in front of a big crowd at Kingsmeadow. Tickets for our first match of the new year were free for all supporters, and those in attendance were rewarded with an action-packed 90 minutes. As Emma Hayes said in her post-match interview, Bethany England’s early goal was crucial, with a tidy left-footed finishing taking our top scorer onto 12 for the season. 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.
Things didn’t go to plan for the Royals in their return to action this year, as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Birmingham City in a thrilling finale. All the goals came in the final 18 minutes, with Meaghan Sargeant heading the winner just a minute after Reading had equalised via an own-goal. The result leaves them in fifth place – or as the ‘best of the rest’ in the WSL, with the gap to the top four seven points
OTHER QUARTER-FINAL TIES
Two of the other three last-eight matches are also taking place tonight, with Manchester United at home to West Ham and Birmingham City travelling to Arsenal. The semi-final line-up will be completed on Thursday evening after Manchester City host Bristol City. The next round takes place on 6/7 February, with the final pencilled in for Saturday 23 February.
VIEW FROM THE DRESSING ROOM
Fresh from scoring her second goal of the season, Blundell thinks hard work is behind our fantastic recent winning run – but the nature of cup competitions means tonight’s game could go either way.
‘We've played Reading recently, beating them 1-0, but in cup games you never know what will happen,’ she said. ‘We've got to regroup and focus on that. It could be a help that we've played them so recently, but it could be the same for them – and like I said, anything can happen in cup games.
‘Against Everton we wanted to make sure we started the year with a win and a good performance. Everything we've done in training has come off. We've worked really hard the past couple of weeks and it's shown on the pitch.
‘The defence has been strong and we've worked in training to make sure we're solid at the back, and now the goals are going in at the other end.
‘As for my goal, I don't really know what happened, to be honest! They don't come around very often. Emma has been getting on my back recently about getting into the final third and getting shots off, so thankfully it has paid off.’
It’s just over a month since our last game against Reading, when the Blues record a 1-0 win. Our dominance for much of the game at Kingsmeadow deserved more than the narrow victory we were given by Ji So-Yun strike just after half-time, which was the South Korean’s 50th for the Blues. She joins Fran Kirby among members of the current squad to reach that milestone.
That match was hardly in keeping with our previous matches against the Royals, which typically feature plenty of goals. We won the first three meetings between the sides, two of which came in the 2016 season and the other in 2017's Spring Series. The first match saw us come away with a 3-0 away win, with Gemma Davison, who now plays for Reading, netting a superb solo goal, and then in the return match at Wheatsheaf Park in the penultimate game of the season we were 3-2 victors.
That was followed in the Spring Series by a thumping 4-0 win at Adams Park. Karen Carney opened the scoring with a header, which was added to by second-half goals from Drew Spence, Ji and Hannah Blundell.
However, both of last season's matches finished 2-2, although both sides will feel they should have earned a victory apiece. In the away fixture in November we trailed to Remi Allen’s first-half goal, but a brilliant free-kick from Carney and a fine finish from Eni Aluko looked to have given us the win, only for a last-gasp own goal from Magda Eriksson securing Reading a point.
When we met again at Kingsmeadow in March, they took the lead again in the first half, this time from a Brooke Chaplen penalty, and doubled their advantage early in the second half through Fara Williams. The Blues stormed back, though, scoring through Jonna Andersson and former Royals star Kirby to earn a point.
THIS TIME LAST YEAR
After winning our group last season, we secured our first-ever victory in a Continental Tyres League Cup knockout tie by beating Liverpool in the quarter-finals shortly before Christmas. Kirby was the hero, scoring a hat-trick as we emerged with a 5-1 win. However, our run in the competition came to an end in the last four against Manchester City, who subsequently lost the final to Arsenal.
Today is the 10th anniversary of Drew Spence's debut for Chelsea, which was in an FA Cup fourth-round tie at home to Rotherham, when she came off the bench to score in a 9-1 win.