Chelsea Women are FA Cup winners for the fourth time when two goals from Sam Kerr and an Erin Cuthbert stunner settled a thrilling final against Manchester City in front of a record crowd.
The two teams have been the dominant sides in the modern history of this competition, winning the last six finals between us, but this was Chelsea’s day as we added the FA Cup to the Women’s Super League title won last week.
It was a classic final that ebbed and flowed throughout, with both sides enjoying periods of dominance and Chelsea twice taking the lead in normal time before finally seeing off our opponents in extra time.
Our opener came from the familiar source of Kerr, who followed up her two breath-taking goals in the WSL-clinching win over Manchester United with a rather more straightforward effort at Wembley Stadium.
Millie Bright was the creator with a peach of a cross from the right that may well have gone in anyway, as Ellie Roebuck misjudged the flight of the ball, but Kerr was in the right place to apply the final touch from barely a yard out. It’s a fourth domestic final in a row that the Australian has scored in, which includes two in December when we beat Arsenal to lift the FA Cup.
However, City came roaring back and drew level before half-time with a fine goal from Lauren Hemp, who cut inside Bright and curled an unstoppable effort past Ann-Katrin Berger and into the far corner.
It was honours even at the break both on the scoreboard and on the balance of play, but after seeing off a Man City onslaught at the start of the first half we were in front once more courtesy of an all-time classic cup final goal.
The ball was laid off to Erin Cuthbert 25 yards from goal and there was only one thing on her mind. Although she was quickly descended on by defenders and had minimal time to get the shot away, the Scot somehow generated enough power to send her strike arrowing towards the back of the net, bouncing in off the crossbar for added aesthetic appeal.
It was a goal worthy of settling such a momentous occasion, and it certainly looked that way until City equalised in the final minute of normal time through substitute Hayley Raso, who snuck in round the back to finish past Berger.
Gareth Taylor’s side were in the ascendancy at the start of extra time, but then a mistake from Alanna Kennedy allowed Kerr space to run into, faced by only one defender and with Jessie Fleming for company. She chose to go it alone and her shot deflected off Alex Greenwood and past Roebuck to put us in front for the third time.
Having lost the Continental League Cup final against Manchester City, we put that right on the biggest stage in English football, with 49,094 fans in attendance at Wembley Stadium, which marks a new record for a Women's FA Cup final. In doing so, we completed our fourth WSL and FA Cup Double and second in succession; indeed, five of the past six domestic trophies on offer have been won by Emma Hayes’ team.
This August marks 10 years since she took charge of a Chelsea side that had never lifted a major trophy. Now we simply cannot stop winning them.
A week on from our epic comeback over Manchester United to clinch the WSL title, Hayes retained nine members of the team that started that game. Jonna Andersson and Niamh Charles were the two players to drop out for Aniek Nouwen. That meant the departing trio of Andersson, Ji So-Yun and Drew Spence all had to settle for a spot on the bench in their final game as Blues, and joining them there was Fran Kirby, who was named in a matchday squad for the first time since the end of February.
Berger started in goal behind a back four of Jess Carter, Bright – who has started each of our 39 matches this term – Nouwen and Magdalena Eriksson, although it quickly switched to a back three when we were in possession. The midfield was made up of Sophie Ingle, Cuthbert and Guro Reiten, plus Pernille Harder in a free role. Bethany England and Kerr lined up in attack.
City started the stronger of the two teams and after Caroline Weir snatched at a chance, it needed some last-ditch defending from Bright to prevent Hemp or Georgia Stanway from opening the scoring inside the opening five minutes. The England centre-half’s block to deny the former was of the conventional variety, but the same couldn’t be said about the rebound which fell to the latter, as Bright threw herself at the ball and deflected it wide with her back.
Other than that, however, the first 20 minutes whizzed by with little penalty-box action at either end – although Kerr did have the ball in the back of the net after being flagged offside – and it was clear the ‘chess match’ prediction from Hayes ahead of the game was playing out in front of our eyes at a wet Wembley Stadium, as the sun from yesterday’s men’s FA Cup final had long since disappeared.
A few tasty challenges from both sides showed that this rivalry remains as feisty as ever and a reckless swipe from Kennedy earned the Australian the first yellow card of the game – and it proved to be even more damaging for Manchester City than just the booking.
Although the initial set-piece was dealt with, the Blues managed to keep the ball and Bright swung in a teasing cross from the right that Roebuck failed to deal with and there was Kerr steaming in to head the ball home from all of a yard out, continuing her remarkable recent scoring form to put us in front. It may well have been going in anyway without the Australian’s touch, and the players immediately rushed to Bright in celebration, but there was no doubt this was yet another goal for the Kerr collection.
Having barely conceded so much as a chance to us in the previous 30-odd minutes, City almost coughed up another within a minute of going behind. Intense pressure from the Chelsea attack led to a turnover high up the pitch, but Cuthbert couldn’t find the target with a lofted attempt from distance.
There was a moment of concern for Ingle, who seemed to take a nasty knock to the nose in an aerial challenge with one of the Manchester City midfielders, and the stoppage slowed the momentum we were building – which our opponents took full advantage of to draw level. Hemp was the scorer, cutting inside Bright and curling home a finish that Berger could only watch on its way into the far corner.
Just as we had pushed on after hitting the back of the net, so too did City. Berger was at full stretch to deal with a dangerous cross and then Carter put her body on the line to make a vital block to keep out a fierce strike by Stanway.
After three minutes of time added on, referee Kirsty Dowle blew the whistle for half-time. One shot on target each, one goal apiece and both sides could point to periods when they had been on top. It was tantalisingly poised for the second 45 minutes.
There was no change in personnel at the break, but City maintained their strong end to the first half and within five minutes of the restart they were very nearly in front for the first time. Hemp was found in space at the back stick, but Berger was out quickly to close her down and the Blues keeper pulled off a spectacular save to deflect the ball behind.
We survived the early onslaught, just as we had done at the start of the game, and began to play our way back into the ascendancy. Reiten’s cross deflected off the back of Lucy Bronze and inches wide of the far post, but it wasn’t long before we were celebrating once more as Wembley was about to be treated to one of the great FA Cup final goals.
There looked to be little on for Cuthbert when she received the ball 25 yards from goal and having spent much of the previous hour working her socks off and contributing at the other end of the field, she clearly thought it was a chance to try her luck at goal. There was minimal back-lift, but her right-footed shot sent the ball arrowing towards the top corner and into the back of the net via a touch off the crossbar. Wembley Stadium erupted and Cuthbert revelled in her moment in the spotlight. Her face said it all – what a moment!
With her side in front once more, Hayes called for reinforcements, sending on Ji for one last final appearance and Charles in place of England and Nouwen. The cheer for our South Korean midfielder as she ran onto the field showed just how much she has been appreciated during her eight years as a Blue. The noise cranked up another notch a moment later when the attendance was revealed, as a new record crowd was set for a Women’s FA Cup final.
Although we were sitting back and inviting a bit of pressure, the threat on the counter was keeping City honest and with 12 minutes left on the clock we almost put the game out of sight with a lightning break. Harder came short to lay off a long ball down the line and then she was on her bike to take the return ball from Ji and run clear before squaring for Kerr, who missed her kick but it still dropped kindly for Reiten to curl a right-footed shot just past the far post.
That was the last action for Harder, who made way for Fleming, and City rolled the dice by sending on Raso, Ellen White and former Chelsea midfielder Laura Coombs, an FA Cup winner with us in 2015.
Just as it looked like we had done enough and would see the game out, there was one more twist to come with stoppage time looming. A lofted pass from right to left found the chest of Raso, who surged past Eriksson and curled the ball past Berger and into the far corner.
Having been minutes away from victory, suddenly it was all about holding on for extra time. We had to show all of our character, and defensive nous, to keep out a buoyant City attack and the full-time whistle came as welcome relief.
Andersson was sent on for extra time in place of Reiten but we started sloppily and almost gifted an opening to City. Berger’s bravery kept out White and it looked like the striker may have left something on her in the follow-through.
We’d barely managed to get out of our half, but Kerr only needs one chance to make a side pay and she was about to get that courtesy of a Kennedy mistake. City’s No33 misjudged the bounce of a long ball and that sent her compatriot away and up against only one defender and with Fleming for company. She used her team-mate’s decoy run to get a shot away and it took a huge deflection off Greenwood to wrong-foot Roebuck and put us back in front for the third time. Another remarkable twist in a cup final that was fast becoming one of the all-time greats.
To their credit, our opponents didn’t allow their heads to drop and they created chances either side of the interval in extra time, albeit neither of which troubled Berger. Then it was all about game management from the Blues, as City were restricted to minimal possession around our box and we were able to keep them at arm’s length as they desperately tried to make something happen.
Ji went off at the end of extra time to be replaced by Maren Mjelde in a bid to eat up a bit of time and shore up the defence further. When Kerr ran to the corner flag in the final 20 seconds of stoppage time and earned a free-kick, it summed her up perfectly – match-winner in one sense, but utterly relentless in the work she does for the team.
The full-time whistle followed, confirming Chelsea Women as FA Cup winners for the fourth time. Somehow the players still had enough energy to celebrate after a gruelling 120 minutes. They had given their all, produced a spectacle that showcased the very best of the women’s game and confirmed their status as the dominant side in England.
Chelsea (4-3-1-2) Berger; Carter, Bright, Nouwen (Charles 69), Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Ingle, Reiten (Andersson 91); Harder (Fleming 80); Kerr, England (Ji 69, Mjelde 118)Unused subs Musovic, Kirby, James, SpenceScorers Kerr 33, 99, Cuthbert 63Booked Carter 81
Manchester City (4-3-3) Roebuck; Bronze, Kennedy, Greenwood (c), Stokes (Blakstad 83); Stanway (Coombs 80), Walsh (Losada 118), Weir; Kelly (Raso 76), Shaw (White 80), HempUnused subs Keating, Angeldahl, Park, MaceScorers Hemp 42, Raso 89Booked Kennedy 31, Bronze 54
Referee Kirsty Dowle