Chelsea made it 26 games unbeaten in the FA Women’s Barclays Super League, setting a new club record with a dominant victory over Everton at Kingsmeadow.
The Toffees are the only side to have beaten us in 2020, having eliminated us from the Women’s FA Cup at the quarter-final stage, but a stunning performance by Emma Hayes’s side saw us avenge that defeat and make history in the process.
Ji So-Yun’s brilliant early strike set the tone for the Blues and though we took our time to make our domination count, courtesy of two well-taken goals by Bethany England and a late thunderbolt by Pernille Harder, the four-goal margin of victory was the least our display deserved.
Not only did it take us to 11 WSL home wins on the bounce, which extends our best-ever run, we also set a new mark for our longest unbeaten run in the top flight since it was rebranded in 2011. Previously we’d gone 25 games without defeat between May 2017 and September 2018, winning 17 and drawing eight; this current run now moved onto 26 WSL matches, 20 of which have been victories, since last losing on 10 February 2019.
Had it not been for a combination of wasteful finishing and exceptional goalkeeping from Sandy Maciver, who continued where she left off last Sunday following an eye-catching display in the Women’s FA Cup final, we’d have been home and dry long before England’s quick-fire double midway through the second half.
Ji had put us in front after only 15 minutes with her first goal of the season, firing home on the half-volley from the edge of the box.
From that moment on we were in complete control, with Ann-Katrin Berger rarely called into action and the Blues rearguard largely keeping Everton’s attackers at bay as we ended their unbeaten start to the WSL season.
And the result was sealed by a peach of a strike from Harder, who netted with virtually the last kick of the game to put an exclamation mark on an excellent showing by the whole team from back to front.
Another victory, complete with a clean sheet, takes us onto 13 points and just behind leaders Arsenal, who we meet next Sunday in a mouthwatering clash at Meadow Park.
The Blues were last in action on Tuesday night, recording a 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Continental League Cup, and Hayes made two changes to the side which started that game, having praised the impact of those who came off the bench in midweek.
There was no change to the back five, which meant the quartet of Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Magda Eriksson and Jonna Andersson lined up in front of Berger. Sophie Ingle came in for Niamh Charles and joined Melanie Leupolz in midfield, allowing Ji more attacking license in tandem with Harder and Erin Cuthbert. England was selected to lead the line ahead of Sam Kerr, who dropped to the bench.
The players took to the field wearing special-edition poppy shirts – each of which will be signed by the players and donated to the Royal British Legion for auction after the game – as part of our support for the Legion’s Poppy Appeal on Remembrance Sunday, 75 years since the end of the Second World War. Both sets of players honoured those who have lost their lives in conflict across the world with a minute's silence prior to kick-off.
Just as in our midweek win over Spurs, the visitors started brightly, relishing the physical aspect of the game both in terms of their pressing and their tackling. This helped create the first chance of the game for either side, as they forced Berger into a rushed clearance that went straight to Egurrola. The Spanish international wasted no time shifting the ball out of her feet, before lofting a shot towards goal that had our keeper sprawling across goal as it just missed the target.
The Blues were having a bit of joy down the flanks, without really worrying the Everton rearguard, but an error from Maciver was clinically punished by Ji. The chance came as a result of England chasing down the keeper and blocking her attempted clearance, which looped up to our No10 on the edge of the box. There was still plenty to be done, but Ji brought the spinning ball down on her chest and read the bounce perfectly to lash a half-volley past the keeper and into the bottom corner.
Our South Korean midfielder, clearly enjoying more freedom as part of the trio supporting lone striker England, tested Maciver with two more shots from the edge of the box and it was clear Everton would need to find a way to lock down this attacking avenue if they were to get themselves back into the game.
In our FA Cup meeting with the Toffees earlier this season we were undone by a couple of crosses from out wide and they nearly had a bit of joy through this method, with 35 minutes on the clock, as Izzy Christiansen was left completely unmarked in the centre of the penalty box, only for the former Lyon midfielder to barely make any contact with the ball. It was a big let-off and moments later there was no doubt what the message was from Hayes, who bellowed from the bench: ‘Focus.’
Within a few minutes, our lead really should have been extended by one, if not two goals. England, our top scorer in each of the last two seasons, met a cross with a firm header that was well stopped by Maciver but an even better opportunity came her way as she went one-on-one with the goalkeeper. To the credit of Everton’s No1, she kept her nerve to remain on her feet for long enough to force England wide, and by the time she got her shot away the angle was against her and it nestled into the side-netting.
Harder was also guilty of failing to make the most of a gilt-edged chance right on the stroke of half-time, as Andersson sent an in-swinging corner into the danger zone that was missed by several Everton defenders and the keeper, but the recently crowned UEFA Player of the Year couldn’t finish it off with her head at the back post.
While there was plenty for Everton boss Willie Kirk to ponder at the break, there must have also been a sense of relief that his side only trailed by one. The first 15 minutes of the second half would be a key period, one felt, such can be the impact of a half-time team talk, but the Blues came through it looking fairly comfortable and still seeming the more likely to score the next goal.
Maciver was called into action once again by England, this time with a rasping strike from outside the box that was brilliantly palmed around the post by the Everton keeper, and Bright nearly scored one of the goals of the season with a mid-air backheel from an Andersson corner that was just a little too high.
Sensing this was the time to go for it, Kirk made an attacking change – but within 180 seconds he’d seen the game taken beyond his side by two goals from England. The first was a brilliant move, Harder was involved in the build-up, knocking the ball into the path of Leupolz, who brilliantly backheeled it into the path of England to sweep home a left-footed finish.
The second, meanwhile, was all about our No9’s appetite and desire for goals. Some may have stood still, admiring the brilliance of Maciver to tip a Cuthbert shot onto the crossbar; not England, though. She was onto the rebound like a flash and simply wanted it more than the Everton defence, beating two defenders to the ball to scramble it into an empty net.
Clearly, at 3-0 it was now game over, but for England there was a hat-trick to go for – and she very nearly completed it within a three-minute spell, which would surely have made it the quickest in WSL history. The cross from Andersson could hardly have been more inviting and England made solid contact with her head. The only thing lacking, however, was the direction.
Hayes shuffled her pack with the introduction of Jessie Fleming and Kerr in place of Ji and Cuthbert, and it was the Australian who almost had an immediate impact as she forced Maciver into another fine save.
There was almost a late blemish, as Everton just missed out on a clean-sheet spoiling consolation goal, only for the woodwork to come to Berger’s rescue, but in the end it was a perfect afternoon for Chelsea as Harder got the goal her performance deserved. The Dane exchanged passes with England on the edge of the box and then ripped a left-footed strike that soared beyond the dive of Maciver and into the top corner. Even Everton midfielder Christiansen had to offer her congratulations to Harder for a truly world-class goal.
What a fitting last kick of the game it proved to be, putting the seal on a wonderful victory. Four goals, none conceded and a dominant display from the moment Ji had fired us in front.
We’re next in action on Sunday 15 November – and this is not one to be missed. The Blues travel to Meadow Park for a top-of-the-table clash with Arsenal, a match viewers in the UK can watch live on BT Sport at 2.30pm.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson (Carter 86); Leupolz, Ingle; Harder, Ji (J Fleming 79), Cuthbert (Kerr 79); England
Unused subs Orman, Thorisdottir, Charles, Murphy
Scorers Ji 17, England 73, 75, Harder 90+7
Booked Bright 65
Everton (4-2-3-1) Maciver; Moe Wold, Finnigan, Sevecke (Pattinson 60), Turner (c); Christiansen, Egurrola; Sorensen, Emslie, Raso (Pike 79); Magill (Boye-Hlorka 72)
Unused subs Korpela, Stringer, Clemaron, Clinton
Booked Emslie 64
Referee Abigail Byrne
Crowd Behind closed doors