The haunting screams of Maren Mjelde, writhing about on the pitch after what could prove an extremely serious knee injury, eclipsed a walkover win for Chelsea Women as they retained the Conti Cup against Bristol City. Manager Emma Hayes later described her first-choice right back, pictured, as Chelsea’s ‘mother hen’, and said the whole squad
The haunting screams of Maren Mjelde, writhing about on the pitch after what could prove an extremely serious knee injury, eclipsed a walkover win for Chelsea Women as they retained the Conti Cup against Bristol City.
Manager Emma Hayes later described her first-choice right back, pictured, as Chelsea’s ‘mother hen’, and said the whole squad had been affected and was wishing her well in recovery. She confirmed Mjelde’s issue had been a knee injury to her standing leg.
A 6-0 victory, a Sam Kerr hat-trick, a comprehensive whitewash just four days after progressing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League… all were overshadowed by a clash between the Blues’ right back and Bristol’s Aimee Palmer in the 75th minute.
Ann-Katrin Berger had thrown the ball out to Mjelde, who turned to control it just as Parker challenged her, and landed, screaming, on the turf. Palmer was booked, but there seemed no malice involved. Those screams and cries echoed around the empty Vicarage Road stadium.
After seven minutes of being treated by medics, Mjelde was given oxygen, stretchered off and taken straight to hospital by ambulance.
Until that moment it had been a one-sided romp for the Blues as they retained the trophy they won last season, just before the Covid clampdown.
Kerr had a tap-in after Fran Kirby squared to her in the second minute for 0-1. Nine minutes later it was 0-2 as Kirby again fed Kerr, who cartwheeled and backflipped after scoring past Sophie Baggaley (a celebration only awarded a 4.0 by Hayes as she hadn’t been forewarned it was going to happen).
A Kirby lob made it 0-3 just before the half hour, then Kirby got her second after 34 minutes for 0-4.
Kerr secured her hat-trick after 47 minutes (again fed by Kirby as the ‘Special K’ pairing worked together once more), with Guro Reiten notching the sixth after 54 minutes. And 0-6 it remained as wholesale substitutions by manager Emma Hayes meant that when Mjelde was carried off there was no one else to bring on.
The 10 players in blue held on, Bristol City looked as shellshocked by the severity of Mjelde’s pain as Chelsea, and – frankly – everyone just wanted the show to end as the final quarter of an hour played out.
Matt Beard said that “the occasion got the better of us”, adding that he’d asked his squad the day before how many had been in a cup final… and only one hand had gone up.
While this mismatch (top of the WSL playing bottom) was being billed as Ebony Salmon v Fran Kirby, in truth it was a comfortable parade for Chelsea, rather than a keenly contested final. But it’s more silverware in the Hayes reign and that, ultimately, is what counts in the grand reckoning.
Hayes said she was awaiting news of Maren’s scan. “You can see from all our faces how gutted everyone is,” she said.
Turning to the match itself, she struggled to sum up her feelings about the victory in the light of the injury, but said she was impressed about how relentless her team were. “We never took our foot off the pedal,” she said.
Kirby carried Mjelde’s shirt on to the podium for the cup presentation, to sum up the team-mates’ togetherness.
Hayes now has to navigate the coming weeks without her most dependable right back, the queen of corner kicks and – at 31 – one of the most experienced and influential players in the dressing room.
What will be concerning is the psychological impact on team-mates. Fellow Norwegian Guro Reiten was in tears after the match and was comforted by colleagues, while Hayes looked gaunt and grim at a moment when, retaining this trophy having won it for the first time last year, she should have been bouncing with delight. The pain, and concern for her player, was etched on her face as she fielded questions at the post-match press conference (below).
Hayes wrote a card to each of her players on Mothering Sunday, and said she was particularly over the moon for Kirby, who lost her mother at 14.
“I’m the fortunate one; I get to work with these players every day,” said Hayes. “I’m so thankful for the humility, and hunger, in the dressing room. Lucky me.”
Still recovering from concussion sustained in Italy during the aggregate win over Atletico Madrid in midweek, Beth England was a spectator in the stands, having flown back later than the squad after spending a night being observed in a Monza hospital.
“I was gutted for Beth today; she was in the stand and they said she couldn’t get in the team photo!” said Hayes, who brushed FA officialdom aside and dragged her forward to join everyone else for the tickertape party on the podium in front of the cameras with a barked: “Get in there!”
Next up for the Blues is a trip to Everton on Wednesday.