A spectacular strike from Bethany England lit up Stamford Bridge and ensured the Blues made a winning start to the new season in front of a record crowd for a Chelsea Women’s home game.
Following the success of the World Cup during the summer, when record viewing figures were set on several occasions for Lionesses fixtures, Emma Hayes and her players began the season playing a league fixture at our west London home for the first time.
It was a magnificent occasion, watched by a crowd of more than five times as many supporters as our previous record for a home game, set earlier this year in the Champions League against Lyon, and the winning goal was worthy of settling any contest.
It came with less than five minutes on the clock and the identity of the scorer was no surprise to those who watched Chelsea Women last season, as top scorer Bethany England rifled in a magnificent strike from 25 yards out.
Although we were unable to add to that lead during a contest which we largely controlled, it was an entertaining London derby and, most importantly, a winning start in our quest to regain the Barclays Women’s Super League title.
Early arrivals to the ground were treated to a DJ set by Blues fan and Capital Radio’s Marvin Humes, whose set prior to kick-off set the tone for a pulsating afternoon at Stamford Bridge. There was also a special moment for our former captain, Karen Carney, who was presented with a framed shirt to celebrate her service to the club after hanging up her boots following England’s run to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Despite the retirement of her skipper, manager Emma Hayes had spoken of the stability in her playing squad and that was reflected in her team selection for the WSL opener. Guro Reiten was the only new face among our starting line-up and the Norwegian was chosen at the tip of a midfield diamond behind Adelina Engman and England, the latter wearing No9 on her back after switching squad number in the summer.
Another first was achieved by Magdalena Eriksson, who was wearing the armband for the first time since being appointed club captain on Friday. It was a double celebration for the Swede, who turned 26 today, and she wrote in her first column in the matchday programme of the qualities she hopes to bring to the role this season.
It was almost a dream start for the Blues and, in particular, Eriksson as she had the game’s first opportunity inside 90 seconds. Spurs failed to properly deal with a free-kick by Reiten which was swung into the box and eventually recycled back into the danger zone, where our No16 was found unmarked but she could only stab a left-footed effort wide of the target on the stretch.
The crowd didn’t have to wait long for an opening goal, however – and what a strike it was, too! The bulk of England’s 27 goals for the Blues prior to this contest had come from inside the box, but she had no qualms about trying her luck, on her so-called weaker left foot, from all of 25 yards after dispossessing Ria Percival. The end result was spectacular, as the ball flew past the outstretched dive of Becky Spencer, one of two former Chelsea players in the Spurs side along with Gemma Davison, and into the far corner. After three 0-0 draws to start the 2018/19 season, it had taken us less than four minutes to open our account this term.
Despite the frenetic start, chances were at a premium after the show-stopping strike from England, as Spurs settled into their contest and got plenty of bodies behind the ball in a bid to disrupt Chelsea’s attacking flow. Our passing, which had looked so crisp inside the first five minutes, was suddenly becoming a little loose, although there was still the odd impressive interchange.
As the first period reached the halfway stage, we began to threaten once again, firstly through Eriksson, who flicked a header over the crossbar after being found by Drew Spence. Our long-serving midfielder, beginning her 11th campaign with the club, was involved again soon after, exchanging passes with Ji So-Yun and then volleying a cross which just evaded the head of the diving England.
Reiten was also coming into the game more, particularly when she switched positions with England to move further forward alongside Adelina Engman, and one intelligent run down the right was followed by a neat pass across goal which Hannah Blundell met under pressure, forcing a save from Spencer.
While the first 30 minutes had largely been played out in the Tottenham half, we only had a one-goal lead to show for it and our hard work could have been undone had it not been for an outstanding save from Ann-Katrin Berger, who dived at full stretch to keep out a powerful low effort by Kit Graham on the counter. Although this was a first-ever Barclays Women’s Super League match for Spurs, who won promotion last season, they were not overawed at the prospect of facing the Blues, having met us twice in the Continental Tyres League Cup over the past two campaigns.
After that, it was business as usual for the rest of the half and the Blues were unfortunate not to double our advantage. Ji was at her creative best, getting on the ball between the lines and sliding through a pass which gave Engman just enough time and space to breeze in behind the Spurs defence, only for the Finn to slide her finish wide of the target under pressure.
Then, on the stroke of half-time the two sides traded left-footed strikes from range. The first, a floated effort by Coral-Jade Haines, only just missed the target, although Berger looked to have it covered, and then Reiten forced Spencer into an excellent save with a rasping drive that stung the palms of our former keeper.
After another rocking set from Humes during the half-time interval, the Stamford Bridge crowd was nearly rocked by a near miss for the visiting side, who almost grabbed an equaliser through Rachel Furness’ powerful strike across goal which Berger brilliantly palmed aside.
As the clock ticked towards the 60-minute mark, the Blues came within the width of the woodwork of extending our lead – not once, but twice in the space of a few seconds. Spence almost produced a strike to rival that of England, rattling the crossbar from range with a swerving effort that Spencer looked to have got the faintest of touches to and then, from the rebound, Reiten headed against the post.
That proved to be the final action of the game for Spence, who made way for Deanna Cooper soon after. The No21 dropped straight in at right-back, which allowed Mjelde to move into her more natural position in the centre of midfield, and the next 10 minutes or so saw the Blues take control of the middle ground, keeping the visitors’ counter-attacking opportunities to a minimum.
With the game stagnating somewhat as a result of that change, Hayes opted to add fresh legs to her attack with the introduction of last season’s Player of the Year Erin Cuthbert, who received a fantastic ovation from the supporters as she made her way onto the field in place of Engman.
After Reiten forced another solid save from Spencer, who also played a blinder against us last year while representing West Ham United, our third and final change followed. Jonna Andersson replaced the impressive Blundell, which meant young midfielder Charlotte Fleming, who has come through our regional talent centre and made the bench after impressing in pre-season, will have to wait for her first competitive action.
There was late drama as Cuthbert, Ji and Reiten all missed chances to put the game out of sight, but in the end one goal was all it took to ensure we started the campaign with a win. As Blue is the Colour rang out at the full-time whistle, Hayes and her players celebrated what had been a fine performance and, we hope, another important step in the development of women’s football on these shores.
Chelsea (4-diamond-2) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Blundell (Andersson 80); Ingle; Spence (Cooper 62), Ji; Reiten; England, Engman (Cuthbert 72)Unused subs Telford, Thorisdottir, Asante, Fleming.Scorer England 4
Tottenham Spencer, Godfrey, Worm (Ayane 85), Percival, Haines (Peplow h/t), Graham, Schillaci, Neville, Davison, Quinn (Addison 72), Furness.Unused subs Morgan, Leon, Filbey, Mclean.
Referee Amy Fearn
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The next home game is against West Ham on Sunday 22 September.
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