Sam Kerr’s second-half header helped Chelsea Women past a stubborn Aston Villa outfit in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday, sealing our place in the showpiece final at Wembley in May.
We created some good chances in the opening 45 minutes, notably Lauren James and Eve Perisset came closest with respective efforts that narrowly missed the target. Villa asked questions of our defence with Rachel Daly forcing a fine save from Zecira Musovic to keep the scores level going into the half-time interval.
Kerr headed the Blues in front just before the hour mark when she latched onto a lovely cross from Guro Reiten. Sarah Mayling almost forced extra time when her effort from inside the box struck the post with five minutes left, but the Blues stood firm to book a date with Manchester United in the final at Wembley next month.
Emma Hayes made five changes to the side which began our previous visit to Aston Villa in the Women’s Super League a fortnight ago. Perisset and Maren Mjelde came into defence, Melanie Leupolz and Erin Cuthbert paired up in midfield while James returned in the wide areas.
Niamh Charles, Sophie Ingle, Jessie Fleming and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, all of whom began the game last time out, were among the substitutes, while Pernille Harder returned to the matchday squad for the first time since November.
With Kadeisha Buchanan and Millie Bright unavailable for this one, Mjelde partnered captain Magdalena Eriksson in the heart of defence. James and Reiten were providing the width while Kerr spearheaded the attack.
Testing the water
Rainfall early in the day ceased just before kick-off in the Midlands, with our hosts getting the game underway and kicking towards their supporters in the first half. The Blues were dawning their gold alternate kit on this occasion and both sides saw spells of possession in the opening exchanges.
Our first glimpse of goal came with 10 minutes on the clock. A corner from the right was whipped in purposefully by Perisset and met by the run of Eriksson, who directed her header into the grateful gloves of Hannah Hampton in the Villa goal.
James was next to go closest to finding an opener for the Blues. A short free-kick from the right was worked into the feet of James, who drifted inside before lashing her effort wide of the far post as we began to conjure sights of goal.
Moments later, another opportunity fell the way of James. Reiten turned provide from a corner on the left and picked James out on the edge of the box, but she was unable to keep her shot down as we approached the 20 minute mark.
It had been a lively start to proceedings and James almost gave the Blues the lead on 25 minutes, shifting the ball onto her left foot on the edge of the box before fizzing a powerful effort narrowly wide of the mark.
With half an hour played, Villa began to crank up the pressure and the Blues were forced to do some defending. We rode the storm competently as Daly looked to cause problems up against our centre-half pairing.
There was a brief stoppage in play while Musovic received some treatment and moments after the restart, our Swedish stopper was called into action and produced an excellent save at full stretch to deny Lucy Staniforth from long-range.
With the final kick of the half we could have netted the opener. A cross from the left dropped into space for Perisset inside the penalty area but the French full-back couldn’t get over the top of the ball and keep it on target, leaving the sides all square at the break.
First blood Blues
We came out of the blocks quickly in the second half and Jelena Cankovic was a lick of paint away from giving us the lead, striking the post with an effort from distance. At the other end, a looping cross from the Villa right asked the question of Musovic but the ball dropped just over the crossbar.
On 56 minutes, the Blues saw their best spell of pressure in and around the penalty area. James and Reiten saw respective efforts blocked by some stellar Villa defending which frustrated our pursuit for the opening goal of the tie.
At the opposite end, Alisha Lehmann connected sweetly with an effort from the edge of the box which nestled into the side netting. The game was being played with real purpose and intensity as both sides went in search of that allusive opener.
Just before the hour mark, the Blues broke the deadlock courtesy of Kerr. She had worked hard and been patient for an hour and reaped the rewards when Reiten floated an inviting cross to the back post, which Kerr confidently headed home to make it advantage Chelsea.
Hayes made a double change just after the goal with Sophie Ingle and Niamh Charles replacing Leupolz and James. Villa continued to apply pressure and we were forced to retreat into our shape, maintaining composure and discipline to protect our slender advantage.
Jessie Fleming replaced Cuthbert in our third change of the afternoon after another tireless shift from the Scotland international. Charles’ introduction added fresh impetus down the right side, and we needed to remain switched on defensively as Villa pushed for an equaliser.
Carla Ward’s side almost levelled the tie with five minutes remaining when Mayling found herself unmarked inside the penalty area, letting fly and striking the post much to the anguish of her team-mates and the Villa faithful.
Goalscorer Kerr could have made sure of the victory with a second goal in stoppage time, however Hampton came out on top as the Australian bore down on goal looking to add to her tally. Seconds later, the referee called time on proceedings confirming our progress to the FA Cup final next month.
Emma Hayes’ side will begin their preparations for our hotly-anticipated UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final first leg encounter against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge next Saturday 22 April.
This match will kick-off at 12.30pm and over 20,000 tickets have already been sold for this fixture. Click here to secure your seat at the Bridge on Saturday!
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Musovic, Perisset, Mjelde, Eriksson, Carter; Leupolz (Ingle 64), Cuthbert (Fleming 70); James (Charles 64), Cankovic, Reiten (Rytting Kaneryd 88); Kerr.
Unused Subs Orman, Abdullina, Harder.
Scorer Kerr (59)
Booked Musovic (84)
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Hampton, Mayling, Patten, Turner, Pacheco ; Nobbs, Staniforth; Lehmann, Dali, Hanson; Daly.
Unused Subs Leat, Allen, Boye-Hlorkah, Gregory, Blindkilde, Magill, Keitley, Littlejohn.
Referee Cheryl Foster