Chelsea inch closer to WSL title after thrilling draw at Manchester City
Emma Hayes expressed her relief after Chelsea maintained their edge in the race for the Women’s Super League title as the league leaders survived losing their lead twice to earn a point against a tenacious Manchester City.
“I’m so relieved it’s over,” said Hayes. “Is 2-2 a fair result? I don’t care, it’s over. I’m not thinking about the trophy. I’m thinking about calming down, having a cup of tea, going home.”
A win either way would have put the WSL trophy tantalisingly close to the hands of Chelsea or second-placed City, who sit two points behind them with two games each to play, but it was Hayes who was jumping up and punching the air on the full-time whistle, not in the knowledge that should they beat Tottenham and Reading then the league will be theirs, but desperate to end the agony of a poor second-half performance.
Goals from the potent England wingers Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp cancelled out a strike from Sam Kerr (that put her ahead of Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema in the fight for the golden boot on 18 goals) and a Pernille Harder penalty but City are left knowing only a slip-up from their opponents will change the places of the top two.
Once again, the goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger, a player Hayes signed because she “knew what she could do” and “refused to let her end up anywhere else”, was a hero for Chelsea, tipping acrobatically on to the crossbar from Hemp late on to keep the scores level.
City’s manager, Gareth Taylor, praised his team’s performance. “I thought the girls left everything out there this evening, played some really good stuff in the second period, dominated proceedings,, looked like we were going to get the late winner, it took a world-class save from their keeper to keep them in it and we just ran out of time at the end,” he said.
The absence of both clubs’ captains, the centre-backs Magda Eriksson and Steph Houghton, meant there were less-established partnerships in each back line to exploit.
Buoyed, perhaps, by having forced a goalline clearance against the run of play from the City centre-back Alex Greenwood, who filled in alongside US defender Abby Dahlkemper in the absence of Houghton, after Ellie Roebuck’s clearance from an Erin Cuthbert corner was headed back by Kerr, Chelsea took control.
Greenwood would match Kerr for pace before plucking the ball from her feet as she raced into the box from the right, but a minute later a thumping header from the Australian forward, from a corner, flew between Greenwood and the near post to put Chelsea ahead.
City’s reply was swift. The stand-in right back Jess Carter, with Maren Mjelde out for the season, did well to hold off the England livewire Hemp but just shy of the half-hour mark she stepped back from the winger, allowing her to whip a cross across goal, evading the weird attempt at a backheeled clearance from Millie Bright, for Kelly to tap in at the back post.
The game rippled to life and Chelsea took the lead again not long after. A slow pass from Dahlkemper was latched on to by an alert Kerr and she raced into the box, beating Greenwood, only to be felled by Roebuck. Whether she got a touch on the ball before sweeping the legs from Kerr was very hard to tell but the European player of the year, Harder, coolly sent the young keeper the wrong way as she sidefooted in the resulting penalty.
City levelled again though after a poor backward pass from the usually sparkling Fran Kirby fell to Kelly after Bright swiped at air in an attempt to clear and the former Everton winger’s cross was swept in by Hemp. Berger would then make multiple saves to keep the scores level.
“I just keep saying it, it’s my job to do these kind of saves,” said Berger. “That’s what I train for. It’s just my contribution to the team. I just want to help my team and do my job. Right now it’s quite good what I do, I just have to keep improving.”