Goals from Bethany England, Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert ensured it was a winning debut for new Blues signing Sam Kerr as we began the second half of the Barclays Women’s Super League season with a come-from-behind victory over Reading.
When our first game after the winter break got underway, all eyes were on our new signing from Australia, who almost marked her first appearance for the club with a goal inside the opening 60 seconds. However, the visitors from Berkshire clearly hadn’t read the script as they took the lead early on through Fara Williams.
The pivotal moment of the match was to follow just a couple of minutes after that rasping half-volley hit the back of the net, though, as Kerr was taken out by Royals goalkeeper Grace Moloney on the edge of the box and the referee had no option but to send her off.
Although they stood firm for most of the first half, we finally found an equaliser five minutes before the break and it was teed up by a sublime flick by Kerr, which sent England in goal to round the keeper and slot into an empty net.
Our new No20 was involved in the second, too, as she saw her shot kicked away and into the path of Reiten, who coolly lobbed the ball over substitute keeper Rachael Laws. There was also a late goal for Cuthbert, who slotted home the rebound after another excellent stop by Laws, and we returned to winning ways to start 2020 with a bang.
Following the mid-season break over the Christmas period, which the Blues went into on the back of a 1-1 draw at Liverpool, Emma Hayes made two changes to her starting XI. Ramona Bachmann and Cuthbert were the players to miss out as Ji and Kerr were brought into the side. When the line-ups were announced ahead of kick-off, the Australian’s name was followed by a huge roar from the supporters so eager to see her in action two months after her signing was announced.
The usual back five remained in place, which meant Ann-Katrin Berger lining up behind Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson and Jonna Andersson. In midfield, Sophie Ingle provided the base for the attack to be built on, led by Kerr and England and ably supported by Reiten, Drew Spence and Ji.
There was almost a dream start for our new No20, as her first action in a blue shirt could, and probably should, have resulted in a goal inside the opening minute. Reiten was the creator, flicking the ball through for Kerr, who showed the Reading defence a clean pair of heels to go one-on-one with Moloney only to fire her finish over the bar.
Instead, it was the visitors who took the lead, just as they did when they visited us in December for the final Continental League Cup group game, and a fine goal it was too. A cross from the right-hand side was chested into the path of Williams on the edge of the box and she hit a sweet half volley which arrowed across Berger’s outstretched right hand and into the bottom corner.
However, the frustration at going behind was tempered somewhat just two minutes later when Reading were reduced to 10 players. In truth, they were masters of their downfall as a defender left the ball for Moloney to deal with, but Kerr’s willingness to chase down a seemingly lost cause saw her nip in ahead of the Reading No1, who upended the Australian on the edge of the box.
The referee had no option but to show her a red card for the challenge and thankfully, after a brief period of treatment on her shoulder following the awkward fall, Kerr was okay to continue. The resultant free-kick from Ji sailed over the bar, much to the relief of Laws, who had been brought on moments earlier in place of Brooke Chaplen.
As we settled into our task of breaking down the two blocks of four presented to us by the visiting side, the pressure began to build. Ji was in the thick of it, just missing the target with two efforts in quick succession, and Laws was tested for the first time by England just past the half-hour mark.
There had been signs of an understanding developing between the two Blues strikers and this was their best combination of the half, as Kerr found her fellow centre-forward and a rasping drive was pushed aside by the substitute goalkeeper. Another fine save followed to deny the Australian, who connected sweetly with a shot at the back stick and then Andersson’s side-footed finish from the rebound crept past the post.
The equaliser finally arrived five minutes before half-time and it came from a familiar source, as a result of our best move of the match. It all started with Ingle near her own corner flag, as she snuffed out a Reading attack with an intelligent interception before clipping the ball up the line. From then on it was the England and Kerr show, as they found themselves two-v-two against the Reading defence. England knocked the ball to our new No20 and then continued her run to get on the end of an extravagant flick into her path, showing a cool head to take the ball round the keeper and slide it into an empty net.
The goal was greeted by chants of ‘Are you watching, Phil Neville?’ from the Blues faithful as the Lionesses boss watched on from the VIP stand, but if the supporters were expecting the floodgates to open at this stage there was a swift reminder of the threat posed by Reading, particularly from set-pieces. The last action of the half was a wicked delivery by the ever-dangerous Williams which was fired wide by Amalie Eikeland.
There was no change of personnel at the break, nor any deviance from the territorial dominance the Blues had enjoyed since the early dismissal of Moloney. The chances soon came with it, too, although it looked like being another of those frustrating afternoons as Reading somehow kept the ball out during a chaotic set-piece sequence. Bright and Ingle both saw efforts cleared off the line and then Laws produced a magnificent stop to deny the former’s header as it looked to be looping into the far corner, clawing the ball away when it looked destined for the back of the net.
Her efforts proved to be in vain, however, as just a few minutes after that save we went in front for the first time in the game. Time seemed to stand still as Kerr was sent clean through, but a debut goal continued to elude her as Laws saved well with her feet. However, just as the collective groan from the Kingsmeadow crowd was ending, Reiten kept a cool head to float a lob over the keeper’s head and into the back of the net.
Prior to the goal, Hayes had rolled the dice by introducing Cuthbert in place of Ingle, and her attacking intent was rewarded when the substitute put the seal on the victory with her third goal of the season. Laws made a stunning save to deny England, whose stooping header should have given her a second of the game, but Cuthbert was following up to fire home the rebound to put the game out of sight.
Following that effort, the Blues boss gave Kerr a breather for the final 13 minutes of the contest and the Australian was given a standing ovation by the 2,828 supporters in attendance following a highly satisfactory first outing for her new club.
Former Chelsea youngster Millie Farrow almost scored a consolation, as she surged through the defence and went one-on-one with Berger, but the German keeper stood firm and held out a strong right hand to ensure a comfortable finale. And just to wrap things up, our other new signing in the January window, Jamie-Lee Napier, was brought on for the closing stages to get a first taste of the WSL.
You can catch more Barclays Women’s Super League action at Kingsmeadow next Sunday when we welcome Bristol City to KT1 and there’s another home fixture on Wednesday 15 January as we take on Aston Villa in the quarter-finals of the Continental League Cup. Click here to buy your tickets now!
Chelsea (4-diamond-2) Berger; Mjelde (Napier 89), Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Ingle (Cuthbert 62); Spence, Reiten; Ji; Kerr (Blundell 77), EnglandUnused subs Orman, Carter, Cooper, MurphyScorers England 40, Reiten 64, Cuthbert 75
Reading (4-diamond-2) Moloney; Rowe, Howard, Potter, Pacheco; Moore; James (Farrow 82), Allen; Williams (Harding 69); Eikeland, Chaplen (Laws 20)Unused subs Bartrip, Harding, Utland, Bennink, SkeelsScorer Williams 14Booked Allen 67Sent off Moloney 16
Referee Stacey Pearson