The Blues’ Women’s FA Cup campaign came to an end at Goodison Park, as Everton recovered from the concession of an early Erin Cuthbert goal to earn a place in the semi-finals.
This was an FA Cup tie that was more than six months in the making, as it was originally scheduled for March before the coronavirus pandemic brought a premature conclusion to the women’s domestic season.
It all started so brightly for the Blues, as we took the lead after five minutes through a nicely taken goal by Cuthbert. The Scot controlled a low cross from Pernille Harder and beat Sandy MacIver to take her tally for the season to three.
We should have put the game to bed by half-time, as we created several clear-cut chances and called MacIver into action on numerous occasions, but instead the home side drew level with virtually their first attack of the half. Lucy Graham was the scorer with a diving header.
It was a similar story after the break, as two missed opportunities were followed by another Everton goal, this time from the head of substitute Valerie Gauvin and once again coming against the run of play.
The Toffees dug deep to hold onto their advantage, but still we continued to make chances – certainly enough to force the tie into extra time.
Yet somehow, against the odds, the fifth-minute strike from Cuthbert was all we had to show for our efforts, and our bid to add the FA Cup to the WSL title and Continental League Cup came to a disappointing end.
The Blues were last in action a fortnight ago, thrashing Bristol City at Kingsmeadow to record our first league victory of the campaign, and for the first game after the international break Emma Hayes made four changes to a starting line-up that was sporting our new third kit for the first time. In came Jess Carter, Jonna Andersson, Sophie Ingle and Harder, replacing captain Magdalena Eriksson, Hannah Blundell, Melanie Leupolz and Bethany England.
Ann-Katrin Berger was between the sticks, playing behind a back four comprising Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright – wearing the captain’s armband in place of the absent Eriksson – Carter and Andersson. An attacking midfield of Fran Kirby, Ji So-Yun, Ingle and Cuthbert would offer plenty of support to Sam Kerr and Harder. The latter was making her first start for the club following her move from Wolfsburg at the start of the month.
There certainly didn’t look to be any hangover from the international break, as the players quickly settled into a nice rhythm and we hadn’t ever reached the five-minute mark when the Blues went in front. The damage was done down the right-hand side, as an overlapping run by Harder was spotted by Mjelde and the Dane crossed low for Cuthbert to nip in front of a defender before firing a low finish into the far corner.
The build-up for our opener was sublime, as we patiently kept hold of the ball and then clicked up a gear when it was required. That continued to be a familiar sight during the early exchanges, including our next attack down the right, which resulted in MacIver tipping a shot from Ji around the post. And we should have been two goals to the good soon after, as Harder saw a shot well saved by MacIver and Kirby’s header from the rebound was cleared off the line by an Everton defender.
Although Chelsea continued to enjoy the bulk of possession – and much of it deep in opposition territory – the Toffees’ defence was looking far sturdier than in the first 10 minutes and midway through the half the home side threatened Berger’s goal for the first time.
With the half-time interval looming, our missed opportunities from earlier in the contest came back to bite us, as Everton drew level with their first attempt on target. Ingrid Moe Wold had far too much time and space to pick out a cross from the right and Graham was perfectly placed to send a diving header past Berger and into the back of the net.
Having barely threatened all half, the Toffees could well have gone in at the interval with the lead, had it not been for a crucial intervention from Carter. Hayley Raso nipped in behind the Blues defence to knock the ball past Berger, but our No7 was on hand to slide in and stop her low finish rolling over the line.
There was still time for more drama before the half was out, as Kirby and Harder both missed good opportunities, and everyone watching was left wondering how the opening 45 minutes had yielded only two goals.
It was a similar story early in the second half. Kirby found herself one-on-one with MacIver and she waited and waited for the keeper to commit herself, before attempting to slide home a low finish, but out came a right leg to deflect the ball to safety. A more conventional stop with her hands was just as eye-catching a minute or so later, this time to deny Harder.
Those saves looked all the more crucial when Everton produced another sucker punch on the counter to take the lead. Once again it was a cross from out wide that proved our undoing, as Raso whipped one in to the near post area, where half-time substitute Gauvin was perfectly placed to head the ball past Berger.
Leupolz came on for the Blues in the immediate aftermath of the goal and she almost created an equaliser with one of her first involvements. Her run down the right-hand side was picked out by Mjelde and she sent a low cross into the path of Harder, who didn’t connect cleanly with her shot and MacIver made a comfortable save.
Hayes rolled the dice soon after – on came England and Guro Reiten, tasked with finding the goal that would keep our FA Cup campaign alive. The former went close with a header just a few minutes after coming on, but once again MacIver was equal to it. The Everton goalkeeper was enjoying a game she won’t forget in a hurry.
Another attacking change followed, as Niamh Charles – a Scouser who joined us from Everton’s neighbours Liverpool this summer – came on for Carter with seven minutes left on the clock. Still we continued to lay siege to MacIver’s goal, but time and time again the Toffees kept us at bay. There were blocks, saves and more missed chances in a frenetic denouement to an absorbing contest, but not the equalising goal we had fought so hard for.
And so an FA Cup campaign that began in January had finally come to an end in late-September, our involvement in the competition concluding before the semi-final stage for the first time since 2013. There is little time to dwell on that, though, as a crucial league trip to Birmingham City follows next Sunday.
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Mjelde, Bright (c), Carter (Charles 83), Andersson; Kirby, Ji (Leupolz 64), Ingle (Reiten 74), Cuthbert; Harder, Kerr (England 74)
Unused subs Telford, Thorisdottir, Blundell, J Fleming, Spence
Scorer Cuthbert 5
Everton (4-2-3-1) MacIver; Moe Wold, Sevecke, Finnigan, Turner; Stringer (Egurrola h/t), Christiansen; Raso, Graham, Sorensen (Boye-Hlorkah 80); Magill (Gauvin h/t)
Unused subs Korpela, Pike, Clemaron, Pattinson
Scorers Graham 40, Gauvin 63
Booked Christiansen 51
Referee Simon Mather
Crowd Behind closed doors