Drew Spence and Bethany England netted a brace apiece as the Blues recorded our biggest win of the 2019/20 season to maintain our spot at the top of the Barclays Women’s Super League table.
Fresh from a 5-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in midweek, we went one better at Damson Park, where we had drawn 0-0 around the same stage of last season after spurning numerous chances.
This time, however, it was a completely different story. We were a goal to the good inside two minutes courtesy of a spectacular free-kick by Ji So-Yun, and by half-time our lead stood at three. Millie Bright scored the second with a well-timed run and finish, having charged out of defence to start the attack, and our centre-back then turned provider for the third, pinging a dream of a pass to England, who killed it with her first touch and finished with her second.
Within six minutes of the restart we had added another two goals, both of which came from Spence. The home side were looking every bit the inexperienced side they are, as their heads dropped to allow our No24 a pair of unchallenged goals, one with her right foot and the other with her head.
When England scored our sixth – and her team leading ninth of the campaign – with the best part of half an hour still to play, it looked as though we could be on for double figures, but we were content to stroke the ball around, safe in the knowledge we’d be heading straight back to the top of the standings having briefly relinquished our position to Manchester City.
What’s more, this was 25th consecutive WSL match on the road without tasting defeat, a run which goes back to May 2017. We’ll be looking to make that 26 next Sunday when we return to action at Everton.
Following the midweek win over Spurs which sent us into the quarter-finals of the Continental League Cup, Emma Hayes made six changes to her starting line-up. Carly Telford, Charlotte Wardlaw, Jess Carter, Deanna Cooper, Hannah Blundell and Erin Cuthbert made way, with Ann-Katrin Berger, Maren Mjelde, Bright, Sophie Ingle, Ramona Bachmann and Guro Reiten returning to the side.
There was a change of formation from midweek, too, as 4-4-2 became 4-3-3. Berger lined up between the sticks behind a back four of Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson and Andersson; the midfield trio of Ingle, Ji and Spence offered plenty of guile and physicality; and with Bachmann and Reiten lining up either side of leading scorer England, there was plenty to concern the Birmingham rearguard.
It took us less than two minutes to find the breakthrough, when a free-kick was awarded in Ji territory – and the South Korean didn’t disappoint. Her set-piece was struck with pace and swerve towards the near top corner and though Hannah Hampton got her fingertips to it, there was little she could do to keep it out. Only 106 seconds had elapsed when the ball hit the back of the net and, in truth, Birmingham were architects of their own downfall, as Chloe Arthur’s foul on Reiten was completely unnecessary.
Having made inroads early on, there may have been an expectation for us to pick Birmingham apart at will, but that certainly wasn’t the case during an evenly contested half-hour which followed the goal. While we generally looked in total control, albeit without creating too many clear-cut chances, the home side had a few moments of encouragement, mainly from out wide and, it must be said, fairly easily dealt with by Berger and her two centre-backs.
Indeed, we dominated possession and as the half wore on we began to threaten more regularly, with England denied an almost certain goal by a well-timed block by a Birmingham defender after our No9 was picked out by Mjelde.
It proved to be brief stay of execution for our fellow Blues, though, as just a couple of minutes later we doubled our lead. The patient build-up, full of slick movement and incisive passing, would have surprised no one who has watched Hayes’ side regularly. The same cannot be said about the identity of the goalscorer. Bright played a pass out of defence into Ji’s feet and then continued her run; after the South Korean knocked it out wide to Reiten, the ball was slipped through for the onrushing centre-back to finish with aplomb past Hampton. The smile on the manager’s face said it all.
Having just shown her prowess in front of goal, Bright then turned provider for our third, which came right on the stroke of half-time. Our No4 has always had it in her locker to ping a cross-field pass and she produced a pin-point ball out of defence which England instantly brought under control with her right foot, before smashing a left-footed shot past Hampton. All three of the key actions in the goal were, quite simply, world class. There was plenty for our travelling support to purr about over their half-time cuppas.
Within three minutes of the restart, they would have even more to cheer about. Just as at the start of the first half, the home side did themselves no favours, and a poor clearance down the right-hand side allowed Reiten to slip the ball to England on the edge of the box. Once again our No9 showed there is far more to her game than goals, as she slipped a first-time pass into the path of Spence, who had all the time in the world to side-foot her finish in at the near post.
Birmingham responded to the concession of a fourth goal by forcing Berger into her first save of the afternoon against her former club. However, while Claudia Walker’s shot from the edge of the box had plenty of power behind it, our German keeper had no problem whatsoever tipping it over the crossbar.
Normal service resumed from our next attack, as we found the back of the net again – and the manner of the goal suggested it was about to become a very long second half for the home side. Ji was afforded all the time and space she needed to whip in a cross from the right-hand side and her accurate delivery was onto the head of an unmarked Spence, who barely even needed to get off the ground to direct a header past Hampton for her second goal in the space of four minutes.
There was no let-up from the Blues and another clinical finish put us six goals to the good. Mjelde was the creator on this occasion, sliding the ball through for England to run onto it and confidently dispatch her shot into the far corner, which meant she doubled her goal tally in this season’s WSL during this fixture.
Birmingham were both the last side to beat us in the league and, indeed, the most recent side to keep us from scoring in the top flight. This, despite Hayes saying she wasn’t happy with the overall performance, was an emphatic way to lay those ghosts to rest.
We’re in action again next Sunday with a trip to Everton, where we drew 0-0 last term, and then it’s back to Kingsmeadow for one of the biggest games of the season. We host Manchester City on Sunday 8 December and you can click here to get your tickets now.
Birmingham City (4-2-3-1) Hampton; Simkin, Scott, Holloway, Jordan; Arthur, Staniforth; Grant (Gregory 68), Whipp, Scofield; WalkerUnused subs Brooks, Rabjohn, Powell, Williams
Chelsea (4-3-3) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Ingle (Murphy 78), Ji (Blundell 61), Spence (Carter 66); Bachmann, England, ReitenUnused subs Telford, Cooper, Wardlaw, CuthbertScorers Ji 2, Bright 37, England 45+1, 63, Spence 48, 52
Referee Stacey Pearson