The Blues marked Emma Hayes’s 200th game as Chelsea Women boss in some style, as a brace apiece from Ji So-Yun and Bethany England helped us to a thumping win over Bristol City.
There may have been concerns from our long-serving boss that a milestone afternoon for her would go off script, as for the fifth match in succession we conceded the first goal, this time to an opportunistic effort from Ebony Salmon.
However, by half-time the game had completely turned around, as the previously wasteful Blues found our shooting boots in some style. Bethany England got us level with a brave header and then in the space of five minutes before the break we added another three.
Hannah Blundell scored the first of these as she opened her account for the season with a left-footed effort and then Jess Carter netted for the first time in the blue of Chelsea. Ji’s smart finish from the edge of the box further extended our advantage in stoppage-time and then five minutes after the break the South Korean doubled her tally after being found by a precise low cross by Guro Reiten.
It looked like we’d have to settle for five as chances went begging, including a shot cleared off the line to deny Sam Kerr her first-ever Chelsea goal, but then England was on hand to head home from Jonna Andersson’s deep cross to the back stick, completing a job well done.
While Hayes will have enjoyed marking her 200th game with a victory, of far more importance to the manager was the three points which keep us on the coattails of Arsenal ahead of next weekend’s blockbuster meeting at Meadow Park.
After the 3-1 victory over Reading in our first game back after the mid-season break, Hayes made three changes to her starting line-up as captain Magdalena Eriksson, Maren Mjelde and Kerr made way for Blundell, Carter and Erin Cuthbert.
With Eriksson and Mjelde virtual ever-presents this term, it meant a rare change to the back four playing in front of Ann-Katrin Berger, as Blundell slotted in at right-back, Carter joined Millie Bright at centre-back and Andersson lined up down the left as usual.
As new signing Kerr dropped to the substitutes’ bench, Cuthbert joined England up front, and behind them they had plenty of support, too; with the exception of Sophie Ingle, midfielders Ji, Drew Spence and Reiten share an ‘attack first’ mindset.
The match was dedicated to the Chelsea Foundation to celebrate the great work that is being done both in the local area and around the world and players warmed up in Chelsea Foundation T-shirts, while there were activities both before the game and at half-time.
Of course, with this fixture bringing up a milestone for Hayes, who has been our manager since 2012, there was a presentation made on the pitch shortly before kick-off. The club’s executive manager Adrian Jacobs handed the 43-year-old a commemorative silver plate to mark her fantastic achievement.
Once the action got underway, the Blues really should have gone in front in the opening 10 minutes as we created a host of clear-cut opportunities. England was heavily involved from the first whistle and she was presented with a great chance from Reiten’s corner just over a minute into the contest, which our top scorer headed over despite being unmarked.
A few moments later she was in the thick of it again, outjumping her marker to get on the end of a deep cross by Ji and this time her header was on target. She got plenty of power behind it, but Sophie Baggaley was equal to it, pawing the ball away to safety.
After two headed opportunities, England next tried her luck with her right foot, after being played in behind by Blundell. Once again the connection was good, but her radar was a little off as the ball went harmlessly wide of the far post. Incredibly, there was still only seven minutes on the clock by this stage; England, in the form she has been in this season, could conceivably had a hat-trick.
It was a case of déjà vu, however, as in the 14th minute, just as in last week’s game against Reading, we conceded against the run of play. It came from nowhere, as the ball was bouncing awkwardly outside the Chelsea box after Cuthbert miscontrolled and Salmon reacted quicker than anyone else to prod a hopeful shot towards goal. What it lacked in power, it more than made up for in accuracy as Berger was beaten despite diving at full stretch.
We weren’t behind for long, though, and after spurning a hat-trick of chances early on, England promptly took the toughest opportunity which had come her way. Ingle played a looping pass into the box from deep, picking out the run of our No9, who bravely jumped up with goalkeeper Baggaley and got her head to it first, taking a whack for her troubles but with the reward of her eighth goal of the season.
With 39 minutes on the clock, the score was 1-1; a few short moments later, when the half-time whistle, we were 4-1 to the good and cruising towards a second straight victory to begin 2020. Blundell put us in front for the first time in the game, as she showed positive intent to cut inside her marker on the edge of the box before striking a left-footed shot which seemed to take a deflection, wrong-footing the keeper in the process.
We extended our lead through an unlikely source, as Carter opened her Blues account with a goal that was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. A corner kick was met by England and parried by Baggaley, but Bristol couldn’t clear their lines and the ball dropped to Carter, who finished smartly from close range.
Then came our fourth, with virtually the final touch of the half and from the rather more familiar method of a right-footed strike by Ji. The South Korean played a one-two with Spence on the edge of the box and, given time to pick her spot, she made no mistake with her finish into the far corner.
After a glut of goals to finish the half, Bristol’s players were greeted for the second half by the introduction of Sam Kerr, recently chosen as the best player on the planet by the Guardian newspaper. The Australian had a hand in two of our goals last weekend against Reading, and within five minutes of her introduction she helped us make it 5-1.
Kerr’s backheeled flick down the line allowed Reiten to get away down the left and the Norwegian wasted no time sending a low cross through the penalty box. Although it evaded England, Ji was on hand to apply the finish touch. The 10 minutes either side of half-time had yielded four goals and it was well and truly game over.
As the second half wore on, it looked to be a case of how many the Blues could score. Bristol struggled to get out of their own half and we created chances at will, as Blundell hit the post with a half-volley from Reiten’s set-up and then England was denied by Baggaley after playing a one-two of headers with Kerr.
The Kingsmeadow crowd thought they were going to be present for a historic moment when our Australian No.20 raced through on goal and elegantly side-stepped the keeper inside the box. There should have been an empty net for her to slide the ball into, but full credit to the Bristol defence for getting back and the sliding Jas Matthews saved the day. Groans echoed around our KT1 home, followed by a round of applause for the efforts of our new signing.
Hayes introduced Ramona Bachmann and another new arrival, Jamie-Lee Napier, as the game edged to its conclusion, but there was still time for a sixth. The scorer was England, who moved onto 14 goals in all competitions with a thumping header from Andersson’s cross, and we had scored six goals for the second time in this Barclays Women’s Super League season, following on from our big win at Birmingham in November.
You can catch the Blues in action again at Kingsmeadow in just a few days time, as on Wednesday 15 January we take on Aston Villa in the quarter-finals of the Continental League Cup. Click here to buy your tickets now!
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Blundell, Bright (c), Carter, Andersson; Spence (Kerr 46), Ji (Napier 77), Ingle, Reiten; Cuthbert (Bachmann 69), EnglandUnused subs Cooper, EngmanScorers England 28, 82, Blundell 40, Carter 45, Ji 45+1, 50Booked Bright 74, Carter 90
Bristol City (4-4-2) Baggaley; Sargeant, Matthews, Dykes (c), Evans; Daniels, Brown, Chance, Pattinson; Hughes, SalmonUnused subs Cumings, Van Der Linden, Wellings, Collis, Robinson, Sanford, JonesScorer Salmon 15Booked Pattinson 70
Referee Emily Heaslip