That, laughed Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, was a tense early Christmas treat for fans. And she was right. There was an unexpectedly tight, nervy finish to the Blues’ last Women’s Super League match before the winter break, but they clung on to beat Reading 3-2 to guarantee being top of the tree through the
That, laughed Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, was a tense early Christmas treat for fans. And she was right.
There was an unexpectedly tight, nervy finish to the Blues’ last Women’s Super League match before the winter break, but they clung on to beat Reading 3-2 to guarantee being top of the tree through the festive season.
In truth the gaffer was relieved to have held on against a spirited Royals team who had shocked Spurs with a win the previous week. Hayes was particularly pleased as her team had had less than three days to get over a tough Champions League draw in Madrid.
Chelsea tired towards the end of Sunday’s snowy clash at Kingsmeadow, and Hayes had to throw on reinforcements to steady the ship after Ann-Katrin Berger, suffering a dip in form in recent days, shipped two goals in two minutes.
Jelena Cankovic had bagged a first-half brace on her starting debut after Fran Kirby opened the scoring in the 17th minute, giving the Blues a 3-0 lead at the break. Replays showed Kirby’s goal should have been ruled out for offside, but there’s still no VAR in the women’s top flight.
Then Kelly Chambers’ increasingly impressive Reading team fought back, as Chelsea literally took their eye off the ball. Berger was at fault for the Royals’ first comeback goal in the 60th minute, as a shot from Sanne Troelsgaard squirmed under her body and into the net.
A minute later it was panic stations as Amalie Eikeland fired in off the post. On a frozen, slush-covered pitch which threw up sleety spray every time the ball landed, Reading threatened to equalise with some rapid counterpunches.
Only the late introduction of Sam Kerr for Beth England, Jess Carter for Niamh Charles, Jessie Fleming for Cankovic and Guro Reiten for Johanna Kaneryd stopped the Royals’ advances and saw out the game until Kirsty Dowle’s final whistle.
“An error put them back in the game, but I’m not going to be too harsh on my team,” said Hayes, brushing the snow off her jacket at the end. “We’re top of the league going into Christmas, and we’re on the verge of [Champions League] qualification, so we’re in a really good position.”
She praised the 1,184 hardy souls who had braved the snow flurries to cheer on the team.
One of the stars of the show was French right back Eve Perisset, whose corner kicks are helping Chelsea create so many set-piece chances.
Hayes agrees Perisset is developing nicely, with the only reservation being her lack of English, which can make fluent communication with teammates a problem.
“English is not her first language, and challenges come with that because when you’re playing alongside someone who doesn’t speak the language, and that makes it tough,” she said. “So she has to keep learning the language, which she’s doing.”
Before the winter break in the women’s league, Chelsea have two further Champions League fixtures… this Friday night away in Albania against Vllaznia, then on Thursday 22 December at Stamford Bridge against PSG. Tickets now on sale from £12.50.