Chelsea One Step From The Title

Manchester City 2-2 Chelsea

By Ben Gilby

Above: Sam Kerr, in dominant first half form, gets away from Alex Greenwood at the Academy Stadium tonight. Photo: @ChelseaFCW

Chelsea moved within three points of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League title after earning a draw at closest challengers Manchester City.

In a high tempo, all action encounter of the highest quality, it was a dominant first half performance from Matildas star Sam Kerr which ultimately proved to be the difference. The Fremantle born striker scored her side’s opening goal before winning the penalty that delivered their second.

Both teams were missing their captains, Manchester City’s Steph Houghton has been out for almost a month now with an Achilles injury. Chelsea’s Magda Eriksson had to come off last Friday night in her side’s FA Cup Fourth Round tie against Championship side London City Lionesses.

The stats pre-game emphasised just dominant these two sides are. Manchester City had only conceded three times at home all season, hadn’t conceded at all for over 600 minutes and had never lost to the reigning champions at the Academy Stadium. As for Chelsea, they went into the match unbeaten in their last 37 away games (since a loss at City) and were 21 matches unbeaten against City and the other FAWSL big gun, Arsenal.

The early exchanges saw the two sides probing down the same flan of the pitch with Chloe Kelly and Erin Cuthbert pushing on. From a City perspective, Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood were trying to stick as tight as possible to Sam Kerr from the get go.

The hosts built a succession of half chances. With ten minutes gone, Sam Mewis cut in from the right and played in a dangerous ball which Millie Bright had to clear for a corner. The pressure that this built ended with Mewis heading over the bar.

Chelsea received their first opportunity just afterwards when Kerr was shoved in the back by Greenwood. The resulting free-kick out on the right saw Pernille Harder head wide under pressure in the air from Bronze.

The South Londoners came closer still two minutes later when a viciously in swinging corner from Erin Cuthbert on the right saw City keeper Ellie Roebuck come, miss the ball completely and Melanie Leupolz’s looping header had to be cleared off of the line by Greenwood.

Chelsea looked to profit from another City error when Keira Walsh’s attempted pass was intercepted by Ji who immediately found Kerr. The Western Australian put her foot down on the gas and raced towards the box, but was denied just inside by a perfectly timed tackle from Greenwood which resulted in the concession of a throw in.

It was from another corner that Chelsea finally profited. This time, Cuthbert played in an out swinger towards the centre of the box. Kerr lost her marker Greenwood and got between Caroline Weir and Lauren Hemp to power a trademark bullet header into the right hand side of the net.

Yet, just two minutes later, City were level. Weir fed Hemp on the left. Her ball in wasn’t dealt with by Bright which allowed Chloe Kelly the easiest of opportunities to turn the ball home and she didn’t look the gift horse in the mouth.

It took only a further five minutes for the next goal arrive. City coughed up possession in midfield with Kerr profiting. With no support in sight, the striker ran though and went to round Roebuck who caught her on the ankle with a palm of the hand. The Australian went down and referee Rebecca Welch had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Up stepped Harder and drilled the ball into the net to the right of centre to re-establish Chelsea’s lead.

Above: Pernille Harder, scorer of Chelsea’s second goal from the penalty spot, gets away from Sam Mewis. Photo: @ChelseaFCW

City responded well once more with Bronze’s effort having to be pushed over by Ann-Katrin Berger for a corner which the German then claimed comfortably ahead of the interval.

It was a harum-scarum start to the second period with City looking to push for the equaliser and the visitor’s content to hit on the counter.

With fifty minutes played, Kerr went down grimacing and required attention from the Chelsea physio before returning to the action.

City continued to build the pressure with Hemp at the centre of much of what was good about their play, but Chelsea were successfully playing the high press which was making life hard for the home side to get in behind.

It was from another counter attack that saw Chelsea away down the left with 25 minutes left. Fran Kirby got free and drove into the box before laying it back to Kerr whose side footed effort was wide.

A carefully controlled flurry of possession saw the visitors slowly build towards goal on seventy minutes which earned a corner. Another dangerous flag kick from Cuthbert resulted in substitute Niamh Charles’ effort going wide of the right hand post.

An uncharacteristic error from Fran Kirby gifted City a lifeline with just over fifteen minutes left. Her loose attempt at a back pass allowed Kelly to play a ball across the box. Bright swung and missed her clearance which allowed Hemp was able to smash home the equaliser.

Buoyed by the goal, City so nearly took the lead with just over ten minutes to go. Bronze won a corner off of Jonna Andersson. Kelly’s ball in was met with a back header from Hemp which was denied by an outstanding save by Berger who back palmed it onto the top of the bar and over. An incredible moment – the like of which ultimately decide matches.

Chelsea responded with Cuthbert sliding a pass across the outside of the box towards sub Guro Reiten. The Norwegian star drove an effort agonisingly wide of the right hand post.

There was one final chance when Kerr broke clean through but Roebuck saved just seconds ahead of the final whistle.

Despite City’s best efforts to find a winner, they never quite conjured up the ingenuity to break through for a third time. It will now take a slip up of unimaginable proportions for Chelsea not to retain their FAWSL title.

MANCHESTER CITY: Roebuck, Bronze, Dahlkemper, Greenwood, Stokes, Mewis, Walsh, Weir, Kelly, White, Hemp. Substitutes: Mannion, Coombs, Stanway, Beckie, Morgan, Park, Lavelle, Benameur (GK), Davies.

Scorers: Kelly 29, Hemp 74.

CHELSEA: Berger, Carter, Bright, Ingle, Andersson, Leupolz, Ji, Kirby, Harder, Cuthbert, Kerr. Substitutes: Musovic (GK), Blundell, England, Reiten, Fleming, Charles, Spence, Telford (GK), Fox.

Scorers: Kerr 25, Harder pen 34.

Referee: Rebecca Welch.

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