Salvaging some sorely needed pride for the down-in-the-dumps Blues of Fulham Road are Chelsea Women, still challenging for the league and cup double under Emma Hayes. While the men can’t stop losing, the women are battling on two fronts with a sold-out Wembley FA Cup final to look forward to on May 14, and the
Salvaging some sorely needed pride for the down-in-the-dumps Blues of Fulham Road are Chelsea Women, still challenging for the league and cup double under Emma Hayes.
While the men can’t stop losing, the women are battling on two fronts with a sold-out Wembley FA Cup final to look forward to on May 14, and the push still on to retain the Women’s Super League crown after a frantic midweek match against Liverpool.
They’ll have to play seven matches in little over three weeks, so Hayes’ squad is being stretched, but Aussie striker Sam Kerr snatched a late winner on Wednesday night at Kingsmeadow – her 25th goal in a golden season – to give the hoarse fans real belief.
Fans, it must also be said, who took their seats and places on the terraces at Kingsmeadow with full tummies after free hotdogs were dished out in the car park ahead of kick-off, lathered in ketchup and mustard from a forest of bottles on a well-stocked table.
“I knew we’d fight until the end,” said the manager, blaming tiredness after being edged out of the Champions League in Barcelona. “I know we can produce better performances, but when you get to this stage of the season you have to get results… and I’m confident we can.”
It was a match which started disastrously as Chelsea fell behind inside two minutes. Lacking concentration at the start of the game, the Blues defence left gaping holes and allowed Tash Dowie to fire over a simple cross for defender Emma Koivisto to pop home.
But with 88 minutes still to play, fans seemed remarkably relaxed about the situation. Free-scoring Chelsea Women would soon punish the upstarts in red… wouldn’t they?
By halftime, parity had indeed been re-established after Eve Perisset’s corner found Niamh Charles, who nodded in for 1-1.
But there it stayed as Hayes flung on attacking sub after attacking sub in a hectic, nervy second half as minute after minute ticked by.
Pernille Harder, Jelena Cankovic and Johanna Kaneryd were thrown on to join Kerr, Guro Reiten and Jessie Fleming in an astonishing six-woman strikeforce.
Then, with the screen showing just three minutes remaining, and after two Reds had been booked for time-wasting, Fleming – far and away Chelsea’s player of the match – sent an almighty hoof goalwards.
The ball sailed through the cool night air, with teenaged keeper Faye Kirby beaten, but ricocheted back off the apex of crossbar and post. There was Kerr, in the right place at the right time. She dispatched the late winner to spark bedlam in the stands and on the pitch.
Professional to the end, Chelsea saw out the eight minutes of stoppage time to clinch three vital points and keep the pressure on rivals United, City and Arsenal in what is proving a thrilling climax to the season.
Everton visit Kingsmeadow on Sunday evening for the second Merseyside clash in four days, with Hayes only too well aware that her resources – once the envy of every other club in the WSL – are now seriously stretched with Kadeisha Buchanan, Millie Bright and Fran Kirby all unavailable through injury.
The Blues are now four points behind United, with two games in hand.
The mood among fans of Chelsea men could not be in sharper contrast to the joy and glee of the women’s supporters, who had a great start to the evening on Wednesday by each being given a free pre-game hotdog, served up from two large catering trucks, to make up for the match in January which had to be abandoned after five chilly minutes because of a frozen pitch.
It was a wonderful gesture by Hayes, who had rashly walked out on to the icy grass to promise to buy everyone a hotdog to compensate for their disappointment.
“It’s the real thing – Heinz,” said one fan, full of admiration for the fact that Chelsea hadn’t scrimped on some budget supermarket interpretation of the red stuff on the condiments platform.
The club forked out £20,000 to cover the cost of an evening meal for 1,664 fans. Coming, as it did, the night after Chelsea’s men threw in the towel against Arsenal at the Emirates, it showed once again that it’s the women who are flying the blue flag this year.