Ladies report: Chelsea 0 Man City 1

A single first-half goal was enough to consign Chelsea Ladies to a narrow defeat at the hands of the defending champions in the Continental Tyres Cup semi-final on Sunday afternoon.

Nadia Nadim scored her second goal in as many games since signing for Manchester City in the 18th minute to settle this pulsating contest. The Blues fought back and fought hard but three big opportunities were spurned on a frustrating afternoon.

As we have come to expect from meetings between these two high-quality sides, the Spring Series champions versus the WSL1 title holders, fine margins decided this match and even the closest of goalmouth chances for Millie Bright at the end could not quite prevent the Citizens from ending our run of nine home victories since our move to Kingston.

Emma Hayes stuck with the 3-5-2 system employed for many of our matches against strong attacking opposition, including our 3-2 victory over Arsenal in the WSL1 last Sunday. Hedvig Lindahl made her first Continental Tyres Cup appearance since midway through the group stage behind the consistent back three of Bright, Gilly Flaherty and Magdalena Eriksson.

Her Nordic counterpart Maria Thorisdottir came in for a straight swap with Gemma Davison at left wing-back in the only variation from seven days ago. This meant Hannah Blundell kept her place on right flank, as did Ji So-Yun in a playmaker role in the closest the Blues manager has come to naming an unchanged line-up this season.

In an indication of how highly both teams regard the competition, as well as this particular rivalry, Man City also made just one change to the starting XI who beat Reading 5-2 last time out, with England No1 Karen Bardsley returning from injury. There were plenty of familiar faces in Nick Cushing’s side, featuring seven members of the most recent Lionesses squad, but those friendships were left on the touchline in a frenetic start to the match.

The first shot of the encounter came from Fran Kirby as our top scorer demonstrated her confidence by trying to test the newly match-fit goalkeeper from distance. The fleet-footed forward gave the visitors several scares running off the shoulder of the back four.

The Blues continued to offer a threat on the counter-attack and some neat passing moves helping Blundell and Bachmann run at the defence. Our best chance of the opening period came when Kirby had a shot cleared off the line on 18 minutes. We showed patience in the final third at the pertinent moment before Ji hooked the ball into our striker, except the City and England skipper Steph Houghton was ready and waiting to clear off the line.

Less than 30 seconds had passed between similar chances when Man City compounded the blow down at the other end as Nadim found the net from a near-identical opportunity. The Denmark international converted a cross by Jill Scott from out on the right flank to ensure Chelsea trailed for the first time at Kingsmeadow.

Bachmann tried to hit back for the Blues with an optimistic left-footed shot but the ball drifted straight towards Bardsley. For their part Man City continued to break effectively, and Lindahl produced a brilliant block to stop Parris on 40 minutes after flying off her line to carry out a brave sliding save. The hosts looked like we needed half-time.

The Blues displayed more urgency in our pressing and passing and only ever appeared a deft touch away from unhinging City’s defence. Indeed, we could have been forgiven for thinking we had levelled the cup tie on 64 minutes until Bardsley pulled off one of the saves of the season to deny Blundell from point-blank range. Substitute Jonna Andersson, who had a hand in our winning goal against Arsenal on her debut, got the better of Abbie McManus to supply the ideal cross.

As the Blues attacking game built into a crescendo, Parris reminded her opponents of her persistent presence on the breakaway and the young forward could perhaps have put the semi-final beyond Chelsea when she skied a free attempt on goal in the 74th minute.

More excellent work by Andersson near the corner flag and a textbook finesse shot from Kirby almost brought us back in the game with eight minutes remaining. Not for the first time in this match, however, Houghton was on hand to divert the goalbound strike.

Chelsea only needed one chance and it almost came in the dying seconds as Bright missed a golden opportunity in the third minute of stoppage time but, for the first time in our 10 fixtures at Kingsmeadow, it wasn’t to be for the Blues on this occasion.

Despite the early hammer blow of losing to our biggest WSL 1 rivals, Chelsea Ladies will take consolation from knowing we are still fighting in the three remaining competitions this season. On top of lying second place in the league and with an FA Cup tie against London Bees still to come, we have reached the last eight in the UEFA Champions League for the first time.

Our next league outing is at home to Everton in two weeks’ time before Man City come back to Kingsmeadow four days later for our rearranged league fixture on Thursday 1 February. Based on the evidence of this match, it is not one to be missed.

 

Chelsea (3-5-2) Lindahl; Bright, Flaherty, Eriksson; Blundell, Mjelde (Spence 75), Ji, Chapman (c), Thorisdottir (Andersson 61); Kirby, Bachmann (Cuthbert 68)
Unused subs Spencer, Asante, Carney, Aluko

Manchester City (4-3-3) Bardsley; McManus, Houghton (c), Beattie, Stokes; Scott, Walsh, Christiansen; Parris (Spetsmark 75), Nadim, Emslie (Lawley 90)
Unused subs Hourihan, Jans, Stanway, Ross, Toone
Scorers Nadim 18

Crowd 2,595