The Blues continued our 100 per cent start in the Continental Tyres League Cup thanks to goals from Erin Cuthbert and Magdalena Eriksson although we didn’t have it all our own way against our opponents from the Championship.
Despite the testing conditions, a straightforward afternoon looked to be on the cards at the Dripping Pan when Cuthbert scored her first goal of the campaign after being played in by Kirby, calmly slotting her finish past the keeper. We weren’t in front for long, though, as the home side were back on even turns through a spectacular strike from Katie Rood, who rifled one into the top corner from range.
After that it was virtually all Chelsea, as we pushed to score the winner against a side who defended doggedly and with plenty of numbers behind the ball. They may well have come away with a point had it not been for Eriksson’s class in the opposition penalty area, as she smashed home from close range to secure our ninth point of the group stage.
Completing a run of three away matches in as many weekends, Emma Hayes made five changes to the team which came from behind against West Ham United last Sunday to go top of the Barclays Women’s Super League. Carly Telford, Jess Carter, Deanna Cooper, Kirby and debutant Charlotte Fleming came into the starting XI at the expense of Ann-Katrin Berger, Jonna Andersson, Ji So-Yun, Guro Reiten and Bethany England.
Carter and Cooper were the two full-backs in the back four lining up in front of Telford, which retained regular centre-back pairing Millie Bright and Magdalena Eriksson. The midfield three was made up of Sophie Ingle, Academy product Fleming and Maren Mjelde, who has spent the bulk of this term at right-back, while Cuthbert, Kirby and Ramona Bachmann were our front three. We wore our white away kit for this fixture and with it being our last match before Remembrance Sunday, poppies took pride of place next to the Chelsea badge.
This was our first visit to the Dripping Pan, Lewes’ quirkily named stadium in East Sussex, although there was some concern mid-morning that the match would be called off due to the torrential rain and blustery wind, prompting a pitch inspection. Thankfully, the referee deemed conditions safe and shortly after kick-off the rain died down.
The Blues were dominant from the opening whistle and it took us only 12 minutes to take the lead, courtesy of a tidy finish by Cuthbert. It was created by Kirby, who matched her vision with a perfectly weighted through-ball to send our No22 in on goal – and she made no mistake to open her account for the season.
However, the lead proved to be short-lived, and the Dripping Pan erupted as the home side drew level in spectacular fashion. There seemed to be little threat when Rood picked up the ball just outside the left-hand side of the Blues’ penalty area, but she cut inside onto her right foot and unleashed an unstoppable strike which flew past Telford and into the top corner.
Our response to this unlikely setback was excellent, as we immediately crafted a chance to go in front, with Cuthbert repaying the favour for Kirby with a delightful threaded pass which the England forward dragged inches wide of the far post. This was followed up a minute later by a powerful strike from Fleming which Faye Baker palmed away to safety.
Although the home fans were making plenty of noise, cheering their team on every time the ball was in the Chelsea half, the Blues’ travelling support were making themselves heard too. Chants of ‘We all follow the Chelsea, over land and sea – and Yeovil!’ rang out from the away end just as Ingle narrowly failed to get a touch on a teasing ball across the six-yard box by Cooper.
Prior to this season, the Welsh midfielder had never scored for the Blues, but her goal at West Ham last week was her second of the season already and she should have made it three when another cross found her unmarked in the Lewes penalty area, but her hooked finish sailed wide of the far corner.
An entertaining first 45 minutes came to a conclusion with the two teams level at 1-1 and while Hayes may have been satisfied with her side’s build-up play, the failure to convert clear-cut chances into goals will have been a concern.
There were no changes made by either side at the interval, although the weather took a turn for the worse as the torrential rain from before kick-off was back for the start of the second half. That didn’t deter the ever-willing Cuthbert, presumably used to far worse growing up near Glasgow; her run and deflected shot past the far post was the only effort created by either side in the opening 10 minutes of the half.
We went even closer as the clock ticked past the hour, as Bachmann curled a shot which looked destined for the top corner only for Baker to push it past the post. The resulting corner almost fell for Eriksson to fire home, but our skipper couldn’t get her shot away as the Lewes defence kept her at bay.
There was a collective groan from the Dripping Pan crowd, followed by laughter, as one attempted clearance got caught by the wind and almost ended up back at the feet of the defender who had larruped it the best part of 30 yards. Clearly, the conditions were far from ideal for either side; spare a thought for substitutes England, Reiten and Andersson, who had to adapt quickly after replacing Carter, Fleming and Cooper.
The Norwegian almost produced an absolute screamer to put us back in front, as the ball dropped invitingly at her feet inside the box, but her left-footed strike was spectacularly palmed over the bar by Baker. The keeper was proving to be the star of the show for Lewes, as she then turned aside a thunderous effort by Cuthbert.
However, there was nothing she could do when a low cross fell to Eriksson and the Swede unleashed a thumping finish which rocketed into he back of the net. Finally, our persistence paid off and we were deservedly back in front and our way to a perfect nine points from nine in Continental Tyres League Cup Group D South.
Now the majority of the squad head off on international duty, which includes three of our players featuring in the England squad for the sold-out match at Wembley Stadium against Germany. We’re back in action at Kingsmeadow on Sunday 17 November to host Manchester United for the first time. Get your tickets here.
Lewes Baker, Cleverley, Taylor, Lane, Boswell (Timoney 64), Savva (Rowbotham 72), Noble, Powell, King, Donovan, Rood (Wingsutton 89)Unused subs O’Rourke, Webbe, HowellScorer Rood 18
Chelsea (4-3-3) Telford; Carter (Reiten 67), Bright, Eriksson (c), Cooper (Andersson 76); Ingle, Fleming (England 67), Mjelde; Cuthbert, Kirby, BachmannUnused subs Andersson, Lloyd-SmithScorers Cuthbert 12, Eriksson 80
Referee Louise Sanders