Second-half goals from Drew Spence and Hannah Blundell earned Chelsea Women a well-deserved 2-0 win over Everton to begin our defence of the Women’s FA Cup.
The Blues had a host of opportunities to open the scoring throughout the opening 45 minutes, but Toffees goalkeeper Kirsty Levell was in fine form to deny us on numerous occasions and keep the scores level going in to the break.
It looked as though the game could be heading to extra time, but Spence finished off a well-worked counter-attacking goal just after the hour mark to open the scoring before Blundell tapped home from close-range in added on time to seal the victory and book our passage into the fifth round of a competition we have won twice in the past four years.
Emma Hayes made four changes to the team that lost 3-2 to Birmingham City last Sunday, with Ann-Katrin Berger, making her first appearance for the Blues, Millie Bright, Fran Kirby and Ramona Bachmann all coming into the side.
Bright, returning from a slight knee injury which kept her out of last weekend’s league game against Birmingham, took her place in the back four alongside Sweden international Magda Eriksson while Blundell and Jonna Andersson occupied the full-back positions. Sophie Ingle and Spence were set up in front of the defence to provide protection while skipper Karen Carney, Erin Cuthbert and Bachmann were the midfield trio tasked with bringing the attacking flair and supporting lone striker Kirby.
Despite the freezing conditions in the North-West, the game went ahead but an hour later than the scheduled 2pm start – and Chelsea didn’t let the interruption to our preparations affect us as we started the stronger side and could have been ahead within the opening three minutes.
Kirby, making her first start since our Continental Cup quarter-final victory over Reading at the start of January, was played through by Spence but Everton goalkeeper Levell got down well to palm away the striker's effort at her near post.
The Everton keeper was back in the thick of it again a few minutes later and once again it was Spence who was involved. The midfielder was found unmarked in the box by Blundell and she did well to get an effort away, but the Levell was equal to her effort to deny Chelsea once again.
We remained in full control of this fourth-round tie, but a slip in defence presented an opportunity to the hosts on the half-hour mark. Luckily for the Blues, Berger wasn’t caught cold and saved well from Toffees midfielder Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah.
That opportunity for Everton didn’t change the swing of proceedings at the Merseyrail Community Stadium and Chelsea continued to dominate. Both Kirby and Scotland international Cuthbert had clear sights of goal in the latter stages of the first half but they would be denied once again by Everton’s goalkeeper which meant Hayes’s side, despite our chances, went into the break on level terms.
A similar pattern from the first half continued following the interval, with the Toffees keeper denying the Blues once again, first tipping over a 20-yard effort from Blundell before palming away a curling effort from the impressive Kirby.
But there would be nothing Levell could do just moments later when Chelsea finally broke the deadlock and it was a goal of the highest quality. We counter-attacked from an Everton corner, Bachmann and Kirby combining well before the latter found an on-rushing Spence who calmly curled the ball home to give her side a well-deserved lead on 66 minutes.
Changes followed, as both Jess Carter and Adelina Engman were introduced as we looked to both maintain our advantage while also threatening the second goal to put the game beyond doubt. It duly arrived, but not until added on time, when Levell palmed Kirby’s strike right into Blundell’s path and the defender tapped home to seal a 2-0 win.
We'll find out our opponents in the fifth round when the draw is made tomorrow evening from 6.30pm on the BBC news channel, and then there is more knockout action on the horizon for the Blues. We return to Kingsmeadow in the Continental Tyres League Cup with a semi-final match against Manchester City on Wednesday night.
Everton Levell, Brownlie, George, Brougham, Finnigan, Turner, James, Stringer (Bruinenberg 76), Magill, Kaagman (Worm 85), Hughes (Boye-Hlorkah 20)
Unused subs Flaherty, Bryson
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Berger; Blundell, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson; Ingle, Spence; Bachmann (Carter 75), Cuthbert, Carney (c) (Engman 84); Kirby
Unused subs Telford, Asante, Ji, Mjelde, Cooper
Scorers Spence 66, Blundell 90
Referee Dean Watson