Late goals from Erin Cuthbert and Melanie Leupolz settled a fiercely contested London derby to give us two wins from two in the Continental League Cup group stage.
In a game that was streamed live on the 5th Stand app, the Blues found it hard going against a well-drilled opponent who set out to make things tough for us on our own patch, and we had to remain patient to find a way past them.
Indeed, the first half, and the opening exchanges of the second, were largely a frustrating affair as we struggled to create many clear-cut chances and Becky Spencer remained largely untroubled in the Tottenham goal.
The visitors hit the post from a free-kick early on, but Pernille Harder spurned a good opening and Millie Bright was denied a spectacular opener by a fine save.
Finally, the breakthrough arrived with 70 minutes on the clock and it came via the right boot of Cuthbert, who took advantage of the Spurs defence sitting off her to smash home a fine opener.
Tottenham briefly rallied, but the game was made safe in the closing stages when Sophie Ingle’s shot was handled inside the penalty area and Leupolz stepped up to convert from the spot.
Six points from six should be enough to see us into the next stage of the competition and although it was far from a vintage Chelsea performance, we produced when it mattered and we remain undefeated against Spurs in the six games we’ve played against them in all competitions.
It had been a long wait for the Blues between matches, as the postponement of our last scheduled fixture, against Aston Villa, meant we were last in action back on 11 October when we beat Manchester City 3-1.
An injury suffered by Fran Kirby during the international break that preceded this game meant Emma Hayes was forced into one change to her starting XI, as Niamh Charles was drafted in to replace the in-form England forward.
Ann Katrin-Berger lined up between the sticks, behind a back four of Maren Mjelde, Bright, Magda Eriksson and Jonna Andersson. Melanie Leupolz and Ji So-Yun continued their midfield partnership, with Charles, Harder and Cuthbert tasked with supporting lone striker Sam Kerr.
This is the fourth season in a row we’ve met our London rivals in the group stage of the Continental Tyres League Cup; the previous three were won by a combined score of 14-2. Both sides entered their second fixtures in this term’s competition on the back of healthy victories, Chelsea beating Spurs’ north-London neighbours Arsenal 4-1 in a repeat of last season’s final and the visitors recording a 4-0 win over London City Lionesses.
After storming out of the blocks in the aforementioned triumph over the Gunners, it was a rather more subdued start on this occasion, as Tottenham pressed aggressively early on and our passing lacked the crispness and precision one usually associates with Hayes’s team.
The visitors were almost rewarded for their bright opening when Siri Worm curled a free-kick from just outside the D against the post with Berger well beaten, and that seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Blues as we began to impose ourselves in the attacking third. A low strike from Ji called Spencer into action for the first time, but it was a simple stop for the former Chelsea keeper.
The link-up between Kerr and Harder, which had shown positive signs in recent fixtures, was on show again here as the latter unselfishly nodded a cross into the path of our No20, only for the Spurs defence to snuff out the danger before she could get a shot away.
Harder had a good opportunity of her own just before the clock ticked past 20, as Charles headed down a teasing centre from Andersson, but the Dane had to take it on the rise and her shot flew over the crossbar.
That seemed to spark something in our attacking play; Andersson suddenly found herself in acres of space time and time again, but to their credit the Tottenham defence held firm to repel several crosses from our left-back into a dangerous area. After their bright start, the visitors were dropping ever deeper, as the Blues began to take control.
There was one last chance before the half was out, as Bright stayed up from a set-piece and took the ball expertly on her chest before unleashing a fierce half-volley with her left foot that Spencer brilliantly palmed away. At the opposite end, Berger had been little more than a spectator, other than the early free-kick that had hit the post, and it was clear which side went into the break happier with the goalless scoreline.
Although the Blues started the second period with more intensity than we had the first, once again it was Tottenham who were the first to threaten. Eriksson was caught in possession and Rosella Ayane, another ex-Chelsea player in the Spurs ranks, attempted an outrageous lob from 30 yards out that caught Berger off her line and only just missed the target.
Our response was swift, as first Bright saw a powerful goal-bound header blocked by Neville and then Kerr saw a headed effort comfortably kept out by Spencer. It was the last action of the game for the Australian, as she was one of three players to be substituted by Hayes during the next break in play, along with Charles and Harder. On came Bethany England, Guro Reiten and Jessie Fleming.
The Spurs defence continued to stand firm, but finally their resolve was broken as Cuthbert made the breakthrough with 20 minutes remaining. There looked to be little on for the Scot as she received the ball between the lines, but for perhaps the first time in the game there was no pressure forthcoming. Sensing an opportunity, she smashed a speculative strike from 25 yards out that Spencer could only help on its way to the back of the net.
On the balance of play, one would be hard pressed to argue the lead wasn’t deserved, although it almost proved to be short-lived as Ayane forced a magnificent save from Berger. Considering how little she had been called upon to that point, the German perfectly illustrated what it takes to be a keeper for one of the top clubs.
The visitors were enjoying perhaps their best period of the match, as they forced a string of corners, and Hayes responded by shoring things up with a couple of changes. Ingle and Maria Thorisdottir came on in place of Ji and Mjelde. A third ex-Blue entered the field for Tottenham, as Gemma Davison, a former supporters’ Player of the Year, was introduced for the final eight minutes.
She would have little chance to impact the result, however, as from our next attack we were awarded a penalty for a handball by Harrop. With Mjelde off the field, Leupolz stepped up from 12 yards and though Spencer guessed the right way and got a hand to it, the ball whizzed past her and into the top corner.
We could have had a third, as England was denied by a fine save from Spencer in stoppage time, but ultimately it was job done. And while it wasn’t the performance Hayes would have demanded from her players, it’s another three points to move us a step closer to the knockout stage, with our final group fixture taking place in a fortnight’s time at London City Lionesses. By then, depending on the result of Arsenal’s game against the Lionesses tomorrow night, our progress could be assured.
The Blues return to WSL action on Sunday when we host Everton at Kingsmeadow. The match, which will be our fifth of the 2020/21 league campaign, kicks off at midday and viewers in the UK can watch it via the BBC Red Button.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Berger; Mjelde (Thorisdottir 75), Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Leupolz, Ji (Ingle 79); Charles (Reiten 59), Harder (J Fleming 59), Cuthbert; Kerr (England 59)
Unused subs Orman, Carter
Scorers Cuthbert 70, Leupolz (pen) 83
Booked J Fleming 68
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1) Spencer; Neville, Zadorsky, Harrop, Worm; Percival, Green (c) (Sulola 89); Leon (Kennedy 66), Ayane (Davison 82), Addison; Dean (Quinn 82)
Unused subs Whitehouse, Godfrey
Referee Emily Heaslip
Crowd Behind closed doors