The Blues made it 10 wins on the spin with a brilliant comeback over Manchester City at Kingsmeadow courtesy of late goals from Bethany England and Maren Mjelde.
For much of this top-of-the-table clash in the Barclays Women’s Super League it looked as though we were going to be frustrated, as we dominated for large periods and created several excellent opportunities, only to find City goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck and the woodwork in our way. Both Mjelde and Ji So-Yun were unfortunate to see efforts come back off the crossbar and post respectively either side of half-time.
Having barely mustered a shot of note for the first hour of this contest, the visitors took the lead against the run of play when Caroline Weir steered home a volley at the back post, and our unbeaten record this season looked to be under serious threat against a side built on defensive solidity.
However, we’ve known for some time that this is a Chelsea side packed with quality, but there is also a never-say-die spirit, which we’d seen a couple of months ago to come from behind against last season’s champions Arsenal. Well, it was shown in abundance once again in front of a crowd of almost 3,500 supporters at Kingsmeadow.
We drew level in the 79th minute when England reacted quickest to another fine save from Roebuck, this time to deny Ji, and our leading scorer headed home her 10th goal of the season to make it 1-1. Having waited so long to find the breakthrough, less than two minutes passed before we were back in front. This time England was the creator, drilling a low shot into a packed six-yard box, where Mjelde was perfectly placed to turn the ball in from close range. For the second time in a month, the Norwegian had provided the decisive moment against a Manchester club at our KT1 home.
There have been so many highs against City in the FA Cup over the years, as we have beaten them to reach the final three times, but this marked our first WSL win over them since the first meeting between the sides in the summer of 2014. It was nothing less than we had deserved and come May we could well be talking about the importance of the 120-second spell which turned this game on its head.
As the Blues were unable to take on Everton last week, following the late postponement of that fixture on Merseyside due to a frozen pitch, the last action our players had seen was a fortnight ago in Birmingham, when we ran out 6-0 winners. Unsurprisingly, there was only one change to the starting XI from that fixture, as Drew Spence made way for Erin Cuthbert.
The back five was the same as it has been for all bar one of our WSL fixtures this season, as Ann-Katrin Berger was between the sticks behind a defence comprising Mjelde, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson and Jonna Andersson. There was no shortage of goals running through the midfield and attack, with Erin Cuthbert, Ji, Sophie Ingle and Guro Reiten offering plenty of support to the front two of Ramona Bachmann and England.
As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, Chelsea supported Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign at the game, with captain Eriksson wearing a special rainbow-themed armband and players invited to wear rainbow-coloured laces on their boots. There was also an event hosted for Chelsea Pride, the club’s LGBT fans’ group, and Nutmegs, a football community for women of colour and non-binary people of colour.
Backed by a boisterous Kingsmeadow crowd, we tried to get on the front foot early on with the high press, but our usually crisp passing game wasn’t quite on the money and both sides were finding it difficult to keep possession beyond the middle of the park.
Even so, we were at least finding opportunities to try and test Roebuck in the City goal. Cuthbert saw one shot deflected wide for a corner and Ji, after skewing an effort past the post, tested the keeper’s handling with a strike from 25 yards. It wasn’t all one-way traffic, though, as Lauren Hemp tried her luck with a speculative left-footed shot which didn’t miss the far corner by much.
Suddenly, with 10 minutes remaining in the half, the Blues came to life. Bachmann’s cheeky backheel afforded Reiten time and space to pick a pass to England, sending our No9 into the box and up against Gemma Bonner. She feigned to shoot on her right foot, instead cutting back onto her left, but her low shot was kicked behind by Roebuck. From the resulting corner, Cuthbert’s low shot was kept out by a combination of defender and goalkeeper, and somehow City had escaped.
The first half looked to be petering out after Ji received treatment for a reckless challenge by Hemp, which earned a second booking of the match for City following Weir’s earlier lunge on Cuthbert, but in the final seconds of stoppage time we twice came close to breaking the deadlock.
England forced Roebuck into action once again, running onto a quick throw-in by Cuthbert to smash a rasping effort which the keeper palmed away. The visitors failed to heed the warning and they weren’t switched on to a quick corner that made its way to Mjelde on the edge of the box. The Norwegian right-back had time and space to line up a thunderous shot that looked to be heading towards the top corner. Alas, the ball cannoned against the crossbar and away to safety.
The half-time whistle came at the perfect time for City, who looked rattled, and despite our best efforts it remained scoreless between the sides in KT1. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised; in the 15 WSL matches featuring Chelsea or Man City this season, the opposition had found the back of the net only four times.
The second half began in much the same manner as the first ended, with the Blues well on top and looking the more threatening side. Once again the woodwork came to the visitors’ rescue, as Ji advanced to the edge of the box and tried her luck with a fierce left-footed drive which came back off the post. Roebuck was well beaten, but Lady Luck was clearly smiling down on her.
Inevitably, the sucker punch followed; virtually the first time they threatened Berger’s goal, City went in front. A cross by Keira Walsh found Weir at the back post and she steered a volley past the despairing dive of our German keeper and into the far corner.
The response – both on the pitch and in the stands – was impressive, as the fans roared us on during a period of sustained pressure when we kept City penned into their 18-yard box and created several half chances. Bodies were thrown on the line as a succession of shots were blocked, but still that elusive goal evaded us.
When we did finally get an effort past the defensive line, which was increasing by the minute, Roebuck was there to deny us. This time it was Bachmann who forced the keeper into a fine save, curling a precise effort towards the far corner which was palmed away to safely. The look on the Swiss forward’s face said it all: how were we not on the scoresheet by now?
Without a recognised forward to send on in a bid to rectify that, Hayes turned to Spence for her first change in place of Reiten. With 43 goals to her name in a Chelsea shirt, the midfielder could offer another threat from deep.
The change certainly paid off, as we continued to apply the pressure – and finally the breakthrough came. City were unable to clear their lines from a corner and though Roebuck made another fine save to keep out a Ji strike from the edge of the box, England was on hand to head home the rebound from close range. With more than 10 minutes still to play, it set up a grandstand finish.
As it happened, we only needed two. Having waited so long to find the back of the net, we’d turned it around in the blink of an eye! Once again it was a cross from out wide which caused chaos in the Man City box and with Roebuck out of position, England drove a low shot back into the danger zone which Mjelde turned home from inside the six-yard box. Kingsmeadow erupted. What a difference two minutes can make.
Perhaps expecting the visitors to throw the kitchen sink at us in the closing stages, Hayes looked to shore things up by introducing Jess Carter in place of Bachmann. However, having played with such a defensive mindset for the previous 80 minutes or so, they were unable to mount any sort of offensive effort, save for a couple of late set-pieces which caused momentary panic.
When the final whistle blew, the emotion of the afternoon came pouring out from players, coaching staff and supporters alike. Ten wins on the bounce, a first league triumph over Man City since 2014 and, more importantly, a huge statement in the WSL title race. It was nothing less than the Blues deserved for a quite brilliant performance.
We’re back in action at our KT1 home on Wednesday evening when we take on Reading in our last Continental Tyres Cup group match. Kick-off is at 7pm and you can purchase your tickets here. Then there is a trip to Liverpool this time next week to close out 2019.
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Reiten (Spence 72), Ingle, Ji, Cuthbert; Bachmann (Carter 86), England
Unused subs Telford, Blundell, Carter, Cooper, Fleming, Murphy
Scorers England 79, Mjelde 81
Booked Ingle 90
Manchester City (4-3-3) Roebuck; Beckie, Houghton (c), Bonner, Stokes (Campbell 84); Walsh, Weir, Scott; Hemp, White, Wullaert (Stanway 69)
Unused subs Benameur, Coombs, Geum-Min, Fidalgo
Scorer Weir 59
Booked Weir 33, Hemp 45
Referee Amy Fearn