Eni Aluko’s second-half goal, which gave Chelsea Ladies the cushion they needed against a tenacious Sunderland Ladies team at Kingsmeadow on a rain-soaked Saturday night, means just one point is needed from the remaining two league games of the season to guarantee the title. Assistant manager Paul Green is taking nothing for granted, but the
Eni Aluko’s second-half goal, which gave Chelsea Ladies the cushion they needed against a tenacious Sunderland Ladies team at Kingsmeadow on a rain-soaked Saturday night, means just one point is needed from the remaining two league games of the season to guarantee the title.
Assistant manager Paul Green is taking nothing for granted, but the relief at getting three points – despite a late Black Cats surge which saw the visitors claw a goal back – was clear to see.
Played in dreadful conditions which left the pitch surface slippery, and passes going askew from the very start, the evening match on May 12, coupled with Manchester City’s defeat earlier in the day, should ensure the title is Chelsea’s, capping a tremendous season which has seen the club progress further than ever before in the Women’s Champions League (surely next season’s target) and win the FA Cup for a second time.
With a heroic performance by goalie Carly Telford, who sustained a nasty cut to her chin in the 27th minute which involved glueing and stitching the wound at half-time, and yet another goal from mighty atom Fran Kirby, this was a dogged, grinding display by the Blues, rather than the neat-passing, gentle build-up game fans have come to expect at Kingsmeadow.
Aluko, Kirby and Erin Cuthbert started up front, with other changes in the line-up necessitated by the bombardment of games in such a short time.
“We now need one point from two games, and we go into next week looking forward to that challenge,” said Paul Green after the final whistle. “We freshened and rotated the team, and the squad depth that we have has worked well for us.
“We can’t just keep playing the same team; nine times out of 10 we’ll get it right, but we had to dig in to get the 2-1. Emma [Hayes} had four contractions at the end!”
Although Kirby failed to get the upper hand in a one-on-one with Black Cats keeper Rachael Laws in the 25th minute, she was – inevitably – in the right place at the right time when Gemma Davison scurried down the right wing to loft a superb cross right into the heart of the opposition area.
Kirby connected, gained a fortunate deflection off a defender’s leg, and watched in delight as the ball looped over Laws’ head and into the net.
Katie Chapman, playing her last game at Kingsmeadow before hanging up her boots at the end of an illustrious career and switching to an ambassadorial role, hit the post in the six minutes of stoppage time added for Telford’s on-pitch treatment after a sliding collision with a Sunderland player.
Aluko had a couple of close shaves before Jonna Andersson sprinted down the left and flicked the ball over for her to add a second in the 56th minute, to seemingly make the game safe.
But there was a late scare as Keira Ramshaw scored a consolation after the Blues defence briefly switched off with four minutes of normal time to go.
As in other recent matches, that galvanised Chelsea into concentrating fully on shepherding the ball to the corner flags and seeing out the four added minutes.
An emotional Claire Rafferty, who is thought to be moving on from Chelsea in the summer, embraced her boyfriend at the end and burst into tears.
She had been given the captain’s armband to wear for the dying minutes of the game.
Eni Aluko is also now considering her options. “I’ve got some decisions to make,” she confirmed at the end of the game, but first we’re only one win away from doing the double again… the double double!”
Green said his next challenge was to try to get through the Bristol City and Liverpool matches undefeated, to try to achieve an ‘invincible’ tag in the league for the season; a milestone which will truly confirm the strength. depth and all-round togetherness of this remarkable squad of players.