The Blues ensured top spot in our Continental Tyres League Cup group, and with it a home draw in the quarter-finals, after drawing in normal time against Reading, although we ultimately lost out after a penalty shoot-out.
Qualification for the knockout stage might have been assured for the Blues ahead of kick-off, but you’d have been hard pressed to guess that based on the entertainment on display at Kingsmeadow.
Although the quality didn’t always match the endeavour shown by both teams, it made for an exciting, end-to-end contest as chances were traded and full-blooded tackles flew in.
The Royals struck first with only 15 minutes on the clock as England international Jo Potter stepped up to curl a free-kick around the wall and into the far corner, with Carly Telford well beaten.
When the half-time whistle that lead was still intact, but it wasn’t for the want of trying; Chelsea squandered several chances, including a close-range header against the post from Hannah Blundell, while the visitors hit the woodwork themselves with an opportunistic effort.
Frustration could easily have set in after the break, as we again found Reading goalkeeper Rachael Laws in imperious form, but finally we made the breakthrough, via an unlikely source. Deanna Cooper was urged to shoot by the Kingsmeadow crowd when the ball bounced kindly 30 yards from goal and she fired home an unstoppable strike.
Although both sides hit the woodwork again, a winner could not be found and so it went to penalties. In truth, neither side appeared too disappointed with the outcome; a point apiece was guaranteed, which meant we topped the standings, ensuring we’d be back at Kingsmeadow for our quarter-final tie, while Reading secured their progress.
In the event it was the visiting side who took home the extra point after scoring all four of their penalties, while Bethany England and Cooper were denied, and our focus now turns back to league action as we look to end 2019 on a high by beating Liverpool in the Barclays Women’s Super League.
Following the draining game against Manchester City on Sunday, when the Blues fought back from a one-goal deficit to beat our title rivals, Emma Hayes made five changes to her starting line-up. Ann-Katrin Berger, Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Jonna Andersson and Ramona Bachmann made way for Telford, Hannah Blundell, Jess Carter, Cooper and Drew Spence.
That meant Telford lined up behind a back four of Blundell, Carter, Magdalena Eriksson and Deanna Cooper. The same midfield four from the weekend was retained, as Erin Cuthbert, Sophie Ingle, Ji So-Yun and Guro Reiten offered plenty of attacking support for a front two of Drew Spence, who came off the bench against City to good effect, and England.
It was a quiet start to the contest as both sides felt their way into the game on a chilly winter’s evening in KT1, but after a couple of half chances for Chelsea the game’s first goal went the way of the visitors.
Carter gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box and a yellow card wouldn’t be her only punishment and Potter stepped up to curl a low effort wide of the wall and past the despairing dive of her England team-mate Telford to give the Royals the lead.
Only 15 minutes were on the clock when the ball hit the back of the net and it served as a wake-up call for Hayes’ side – and we should have equalised straight after. A free-kick into the box proved just out of reach for first Spence and then Eriksson, who slid in at the back post but just couldn’t get enough contact to divert it past Rachael Laws, who left her with very little to aim at.
The Reading keeper was called into action again soon after and this time she produced the save of the match. The build-up from the Blue was slick and Reiten played the killer pass to send England in on goal. It was a striker’s dream, as the ball sat up perfectly for our leading scorer to put her foot through it, and she did just that. Unfortunately, her shot was too close to Laws, who pulled off an eye-catching save nonetheless.
However, Reading remained a threat on the encounter and when Ji lost possession on the halfway line, the Royals broke at pace and came within inches of doubling their advantage. Fara Williams laid the ball off to Angharad James on the left-hand corner of the box and she curled a hopeful effort which dipped late and came back off the angle of post and bar.
It had been a strange old half, largely dominated by the home side but with Reading in front and having come closest to scoring the game’s second goal, but just seconds before the half-time whistle the Blues should have been back on level terms. Reiten managed to get a shot away under pressure, but the ball bounced up kindly for the onrushing Blundell, whose header missed the unguarded net and bounced back off the post and along the line – possibly even over – before being smuggled away to safely.
The second half started in a similar vein, as Telford pulled off a stunning save to deny Williams from a free-kick which had deviated with a big deflection off the wall, and then Chelsea went close on several occasions. After Spence narrowly missed the target with a sweetly struck half-volley on the turn, Laws produced two fine stops in the space of a minute to deny first Cooper and then Carter. The latter will perhaps feel she should have done better with a free header so close to goal.
It mattered not, for just a few minutes later we were back on even terms – and the goal came from the toughest chance of the lot. Cooper might not be known for her goalscoring prowess, but she followed up her goal in our last Conti Cup game with an absolute pearler. A corner-kick was cleared to our No21 around 25 yards from goal and she took a touch to steady herself before unleashing a powerful strike which fizzed into the far corner.
Having worked so hard to conjure up the equaliser, the Blues were almost behind within seconds of Cooper’s stunning effort, as Eikeland was left completely unmarked at the back stick to head a cross against the woodwork from a matter of yards. It was the same post which Blundell had hit at the end of the first half and, in truth, it looked easier to score than miss.
After that near miss, Hayes shuffled her pack, introducing Mjelde and Andersson in place of Ji and Blundell. For the latter, it was another vital 70 minutes in the legs as she continues her comeback from injury.
As we entered the final 10 minutes the game nearly took another twist as Ingle tried her luck with a controlled effort from range, going for placement rather than power, and once again it was only the woodwork which prevented another goal from being scored. That meant with the match finishing all-square, a penalty shoot-out would decide which side added a second point to their tally for the evening.
The first five penalties were confidently dispatched, but Laws, following up on her heroics from normal time, produced a wonderful save to tip England’s strike past the post. Allen emphatically smashed Reading two goals in front and when Cooper saw her effort from 12 yards palmed away, the shoot-out was done and the Blues had tasted defeat for the first time this season.
It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, with top spot already guaranteed, and attention now turns back to league action. Our final game of 2019 takes place on Sunday when we travel to Liverpool in the WSL, which kicks off at 2pm and for those not travelling up the North-West, you can catch it on the FA Player. Then, after the Christmas break, we’re back at Kingsmeadow to face Reading again, this time in a league fixture – and it could be a first opportunity for Blues fans to catch a glimpse of our new signing Sam Kerr. Click here to buy your tickets now!
Chelsea (4-4-1-1) Telford; Blundell (Andersson 71), Carter, Eriksson (c), Cooper; Cuthbert, Ingle, Ji (Mjelde 71), Reiten; Spence; EnglandUnused subs Berger, Wardlaw, Fleming, BachmannScorer Cooper 66Booked Carter 14, Ingle, 34
Reading (4-4-1-1) Laws; Leine, Howard, Potter (Farrow 77), Pacheco; James, Allen, Moore, Utland (Eikeland 46); Williams; ChaplenUnused subs Moloney, Bennink, Reynolds, QuirkScorer Potter 15Booked Moore 44
Referee Paul Johnson