Goals either side of half-time from Guro Reiten and Bethany England gave us a hard-fought win over Birmingham City to maintain the pressure at the top of the Barclays Women’s Super League standings.
Fans who were at Kingsmeadow or watching live on the 5th Stand app had to wait patiently for the goals to come, as the visiting side frustrated us for the majority of the first half and we struggled to create any chances of note.
The turning point came right on the stroke of half-time and while Birmingham’s defensive effort left a lot to be desired, plenty of credit should go to Reiten for reacting quickly and then having the technique to make the most of the opportunity.
Jonna Andersson sent a low cross into a dangerous area, but there were enough defenders in place to deal with it and hesitation proved to be their downfall as the Norwegian snuck in to slot home her sixth of the season.
The goal completely changed the complexion of the game, as we came out for the second half full of confidence and pegged Birmingham back for long periods.
Although a succession of early chances went begging, and goalkeeper Hannah Hampton pulled off a fine stop to deny Drew Spence, we continued to threaten and the clincher came shortly before the hour mark.
Erin Cuthbert was the provider, clipping a ball over the top for England to chase and she had far too much pace for the Birmingham defence. With just the goalkeeper to beat, there was only going to be one outcome.
That’s now eight WSL games in a row that our leading scorer has found the back of the net and the victory means we keep pace with Manchester City at the top of the standings after their narrow 1-0 win over Bristol City.
This was our first action for 10 days after Storm Ciara put paid to our trip to Manchester United on Sunday and for a third game running Emma Hayes stuck with the same starting XI which followed up booking a spot in the Continental League Cup final with our biggest win of the season against West Ham United.
That meant Carly Telford continued in goal behind a back four of Hannah Blundell, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson and Andersson. Maren Mjelde, who netted twice against the Hammers, and Reiten lined up on the flanks, with Sophie Ingle and Spence in the centre of midfield, while Cuthbert and England continued up front.
There was also a return to the substitutes’ bench for Maria Thorisdottir, back after a lengthy injury absence, and Ji So-Yun, who has been away on international duty. The South Korean was presented with a framed shirt ahead of kick-off to mark 150 games for the club, having reached the milestone last month.
It was a subdued start to the game, largely thanks to Birmingham’s aggressive pressing game which left the Blues with little time and space to work in, and despite the best efforts of the Kingsmeadow crowd to rouse a response from the players, the opening 20 minutes passed by with little incident.
The contest briefly came to life when Telford showed good awareness and a rarely seen turn of pace to race out of her area to clear the danger before a through-ball could find Brianna Visalli and then Cuthbert fired the first shot on target with a powerful effort from outside the box which Hannah Hampton turned around the post. Lucy Stainiforth responded with a powerful first-time effort that was just a few inches too high.
That looked like being as good as it got for the opening half, however, and Marta Tejedor’s side would have been delighted with the state of play. One poor piece of defending undid all their good work, though, as they failed to deal with a cross from the left which Ingle flicked towards goal, and there was Reiten to steer the ball home from close range.
Both Blues centre-halves, Eriksson and Bright, tried their luck at the start of the second half as we looked to press home our advantage, but it was Spence who forced Hampton into action and the Birmingham keeper brilliantly got down to her left to push out a low drive from the edge of the area.
It proved to be a temporary reprieve for the visiting side, as a few minutes later our lead was doubled – and there was absolutely no surprise about the identity of the scorer. England may have been quiet by her standards, but when Cuthbert flicked the ball over the top she was on to it like a flash, heading it into space and showing the Birmingham defence a clean pair of heels before finishing with aplomb.
She should have had a second, too, after expertly spinning her marker just inside the penalty box, which opened up a yard of space for a left-footed strike. Only the width of the far post denied her a `19th goal of the campaign.
Thorisdottir was among those to come on as a glut of substitutions were made, with both sides seemingly content to settle for 2-0, and the Norwegian’s return for her first appearance of 2020 was another positive for Hayes to take from a hugely professional performance.
We’re back at Kingsmeadow again on Sunday for the visit of Liverpool, as we look to move a step closer to another trip to Wembley Stadium for the Women’s FA Cup final. Kick-off is at 12.30pm – click here to buy your tickets now!
Chelsea (4-4-2) Telford; Blundell, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Mjelde, Ingle (Thorisdottir 76), Spence (Bachmann 66), Reiten (Carter 77); England, Cuthbert
Unused subs Berger, Ji, Cooper
Scorers Reiten 45, England 58
Birmingham City (4-1-4-1) Hampton; Mayling, Brougham, Harrop (c), Jordan; Arthur; Visalli (Kelly 79), Staniforth, Whipp, Grant (Walker 84); Williams
Unused subs Brooks, Scott, Scofield, Holloway
Referee Robert Whiton.