First-half headers from Bethany England and Sam Kerr gave us a second victory over Tottenham Hotspur this week that keeps us ahead in the race for the Women’s Super League title.
We were pushed all the way by our London rivals at the Hive on Sunday and this game at Kingsmeadow was just as tense, although we certainly had enough chances to have made it a more comfortable evening.
We deservedly took the lead midway through the first half and it was the in-form England who put us in front, as she ghosted in between two Tottenham defenders to head home a wonderful cross by Jonna Andersson.
Throughout the opening 45 minutes we were the dominant side, albeit without testing Tinja-Riikka Korpela as much as our build-up play merited, although one clear chance for Guro Reiten was brilliantly turned away by the Spurs keeper.
We were made to pay for our wastefulness on the stroke of half-time when Kerys Harrop scored from Tottenham’s first attempt at goal, as she flicked on a free-kick at the near post to beat Zecira Musovic. It was the first we’d conceded in a WSL game at Kingsmeadow since Danielle Carter had scored for Brighton on 2 October.
However, the response from Emma Hayes’ side showed, as the crowd were quick to point out, ‘why we’re champions’ and just over a minute after being pegged back, we were in front once more. Pernille Harder was the creator, tricking her way past a defender to run clear down the right and then crossing for Kerr to emphatically direct a header past Korpela.
The Australian, of course, had been our match winner in that dramatic game on Sunday afternoon, and so it would prove again, as a tense second half unfolded without either side finding the back of the net, although Erin Cuthbert came closest to making the points safe when she hit the post.
It’s now nine wins from 11 WSL games in 2022, extending our lead over Arsenal at the top of the standings to four points, albeit having played one more than the Gunners. Our last two fixtures are away to Birmingham City on Sunday and then at home to Manchester United a week later.
Just as Hayes predicted after our 0-0 draw with the Gunners back in February, this title race is going all the way…
The Blues boss opted to make four changes to her starting XI, four days on from our meeting against the same opposition. Ann-Katrin Berger was suspended following her red card in that game, while Aniek Nouwen, Niamh Charles and Ji So-Yun also came out of the team, to be replaced by Musovic, Andersson, Magdalena Eriksson and Harder. That quartet had all made a positive impact from the bench on Sunday.
There was also a change in system to a back four, so Musovic’s goal was protected by Jess Carter, who switched to right-back, Millie Bright, Eriksson and Andersson. Sophie Ingle was the first link between defence and midfield, with the attacking threat coming from Harder, Cuthbert, Reiten and the strike duo of England and Kerr.
We had started slowly in the two fixtures preceding this one, but on a cloudy spring evening in KT1 we almost scored with our first attack after kick-off. England wasn’t quite able to fashion a shooting opportunity on either foot when well placed, but she set the ball up nicely for Carter to curl in a teasing cross that Kerr just couldn’t get enough power behind to test the keeper.
Our change in system seemed to be opening up plenty of crossing opportunities down the channels, and both of our full-backs and the wide players were intent on making Spurs pay for that. One looping cross from Reiten found Cuthbert storming into the box, but her goal-bound volley was blocked by Zadorsky.
Andersson was the next to take advantage, as she teased in a cross to pick out the run of Harder, but the Dane’s volley was deflected wide in what seemed like slow motion. Still, Spurs didn’t heed the warning, and from the resulting corner we took the lead.
This time it was quick thinking from Reiten to play a short corner to Andersson, whose second cross in quick succession was even more inviting than the first. England’s eyes must have lit up as she saw the ball heading over and she nipped in between two Spurs defenders to head home her sixth goal in as many appearances against Tottenham.
A number of half chances and moments of promise had the crowd on their feet, but we weren’t testing Korpela as often as the quality of our build-up play deserved. There was, however, a clear handball by Rachel Williams that was missed by the referee; there may have been very little distance between her and the player whose header she was blocking, but her hand was high and away from her body.
Our lead should have been two just before the break, when Kerr’s flick on to Harder was then shuffled forward for Reiten to run in on goal, but Korpela saved brilliantly with her legs and one of her defenders completed the job by heading off the line.
Having dominated the half and barely given Tottenham a sniff, out of nothing we saw our lead wiped out. A needless free-kick was conceded out wide and Spurs took full advantage, as the set-piece was whipped to the front post and Harrop headed into the far corner, leaving Musovic with no chance.
The response from the Blues was immediate, as just over a minute later we were back in front. It was another simple goal, as a lovely bit of skill from Harder gave her a yard of space down the right and her cross was powerfully headed home by Kerr, who had also made the score 2-1 in Sunday’s game with a header.
Hayes was jumping for joy on the sidelines – the timing of that goal was absolutely crucial, ripping the momentum away from the visitors. ‘That’s why we’re champions,’ rang out around Kingsmeadow as the half-time whistle blew.
After the action-packed ending to the opening 45 minutes, the start to the second half was rather more circumspect from both sides, although Tottenham boss Rehanne Skinner would have been the happier of the two managers as her players gave our defence a few more questions to answer.
It wasn’t until the hour mark that they managed to cause Musovic a problem, though, but the Swedish keeper pulled off an outstanding save to palm away a looping effort by former Blues forward Rosella Ayane that was threatening to creep into the far corner.
Even during this slight lull from the Blues, the supporters inside Kingsmeadow continued to sing their hearts out, and they were in full voice to welcome the arrival of Jessie Fleming, who came on to replace Reiten. The Canadian was looking to mirror the impact she made on Sunday, when she smashed in one of the goals of the season to make the three points safe in stoppage time.
She very nearly had a goal with her first touch of the ball, as Harder drove in from the left and cleverly cut the ball back to her, but a Spurs defender just managed to do enough to put her off and the chance went begging.
Harder departed the scene soon after, no doubt to the relief of those in the opposition ranks after she’d tormented them over the previous 75 minutes, to be replaced by Niamh Charles. Once again a substitution was almost immediately followed by a goal; Cuthbert fashioned a yard of space for herself on the edge of the box and struck a fierce low effort that caught the outside of the post.
It could have been a nervy conclusion as the clock ticked down, but we’ve been here before plenty of times and the game-management shown by Hayes’ players was spot on. Spurs didn’t have so much as a sniff of goal and, although we weren’t able to make the most of a couple of promising opportunities, we closed the game out. It was another fixture ticked off with three more points to our name. Job done.
The WSL title race has very nearly been run, with only two games remaining. The first is away to Birmingham City on Sunday night, followed by a home meeting with Manchester United on the final day of the season. Click here to buy your ticket for that one now!
Chelsea (4-1-3-2) Musovic; Carter, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Ingle; Harder (Charles 75), Cuthbert, Reiten (Fleming 65); England, Kerr
Unused subs Soper, Nouwen, Mjelde, James, Spence, Abdullina
Scorers England 19, Kerr 45+1
Tottenham Korpela, Ale, Bartrip, Schnaderbeck, Zadorsky (c), Harrop, Clemaron, Simon (Addison 74), Cho (Summanen 54), Ayane, Williams
Unused subs Spencer, Tang, Green, Lane
Scorer Harrop 44
Booked Ayane 87, Bartrip 88
Referee Jack Packman