Bethany England’s quick-fire brace and a smart finish by Drew Spence ensured the Blues made it two wins from two at the start of our Continental Tyres League Cup campaign.
For the second game running in the competition we followed an under par first-half performance with a much better showing after the break, having spurned chance after chance during the opening 45 minutes against opponents from the Championship.
However, we raced into a two-goal lead only 10 minutes into the second half as England, who also netted two at this same ground a year ago, tapped home a cross by Maren Mjelde and then headed in Erin Cuthbert’s precise free-kick.
It was complete domination by the Blues throughout the match and the scoreline took on a fairer reflection of the balance of play, as England unselfishly teed up Spence to score her first goal of the season to give us a comfortable victory.
Having won our previous fixture in the competition 2-0 against West Ham United we move on to six points in Group D South and are well placed to progress to the quarter-finals, with our next game in the Continental League Cup coming in a fortnight’s time at Lewes Town.
Emma Hayes rang the changes after her side’s fantastic 2-1 comeback win over Arsenal the previous weekend, which put us above last season’s champions in the Barclays Women’s Super League standings. Only four players retained their spot in the starting XI: Mjelde, Millie Bright, Cuthbert and England.
That meant Carly Telford came in for Ann-Katrin Berger between the sticks, lining up behind a back four of Mjelde, Bright, Deanna Cooper and Jess Carter, who came in for her first appearance of the campaign. Anita Asante and Maria Thorisdottir, last weekend’s match-winner, were nominally the deepest of the midfield quintet, which included Ramona Bachmann, Spence and Cuthbert. England, our joint-top scorer heading into the game with three, led the line once again.
The Blues could have been two up inside the opening 10 minutes as we created two excellent chances in quick succession. The first fell to Bachmann, who did everything right in rounding the keeper and firing a powerful shot at goal, only for Palace skipper Freya Holdaway to block it with her face, denying a certain goal.
Then, from the resulting corner, we went close once again. After the home side headed away the initial set-piece, Cuthbert retrieved the loose ball and fashioned a yard of space to send over a pinpoint centre which found Spence completely unmarked and though she met the ball cleanly, her header whizzed the wrong side of the crossbar.
Unfortunately, Asante had picked up a knock ahead of those two opportunities and was unable to continue, which meant Jonna Andersson came on in her place and a tactical reshuffle followed, as Spence dropped deeper, Bachman went central and our usual left-back played as an out-and-out winger.
Despite our clear dominance of the opening third of the contest, the Eagles gave a warning they could be a threat on the counter. Magda Mosengo must be one of the few players in the English game who can pose a physical threat to Bright and she showed a decent touch, too, as she cut onto her right foot and blasted an effort which didn’t miss Telford’s goal by much.
After that, though, it was virtually one-way traffic for the remainder of the half. Bachmann was at the heart of our best moves, just missing out on applying the finishing touch to a teasing Andersson centre and then sending Cuthbert in to force a fine save from Lucy Gillett with her legs.
The Palace keeper was at it again a few minutes later, albeit with the aid of a couple of blocked shots too, as the shots rained in on her goal, but somehow our opponents from the Championship held firm. There would have been little Gillett could have done about a strike from Carter on the stroke of half-time, however, as our No7 tried her luck from distance and was only the width of the crossbar away from opening the scoring as the ball cannoned off the woodwork and away to safety.
It was clear from the opening stages of the second half that the Blues had been instructed to increase the tempo in the attacking third, having been laboured in that area at times during the opening 45 minutes, and it paid immediate dividends.
After heading one chance over the crossbar, England wasn’t about to let the next opportunity pass her by, as a slick move saw Mjelde break free down the right and send a low cross which evaded everyone except our No9, who tapped home the simplest of finishes.
The same could be said of her second, which arrived four minutes later when she headed home a free-kick by Cuthbert, awarded for a cynical tug of Carter’s shirt by a Palace defence. In the blink of an eye we had gone from staring at a potentially trick second half to being in complete control of the contest.
We continued to assert ourselves on the home side, creating chance after chance, but only a combination of good defending and wasteful finishing was keeping the scoreline respectable. Hayes, clearly hoping to rectify that, gave our lower-league opponents no respite as she brought on Reiten for the final half hour.
When our third arrived, it was undoubtedly the pick of the goals, although the move started when a Palace defender got the ball caught under her feet. Cuthbert wasted little time pouncing upon the opportunity, running into space and then quickly squaring to England, who spurned the opportunity of a hat-trick to unselfishly tee up Spence for a simple finish across the keeper and into the bottom corner.
Next up for the Blues is a return to Barclays Women’s Super League action, as Hayes takes her side to Rush Green for a meeting with last season’s Women’s FA Cup runners-up West Ham United. After that it’s a third away game on the bounce, this time against Lewes Town, before we return to Kingsmeadow on Sunday 17 November to host Manchester United for the first time. Get your tickets here.
Crystal Palace Gillett, Johnson, Pepper, Amy Goddard, Holdaway (c), Hurley, Watling (Ashleigh Goddard 63), Rutherford, Mosengo (Laudat 63), Khassal (Mackenzie 82)Unused subs Butler, Stevens, Waldie, GibbonBooked Johnson 58
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Telford; Mjelde (Reiten 63), Bright (c), Cooper, Carter; Asante (Andersson 10), Thorisdottir; Bachmann, Spence, Cuthbert; EnglandUnused subs Berger, Eriksson, Ingle, JiScorers England 51, 55, Spence 76
Referee Abigail Byrne