Chelsea hosted Manchester City in what promised to be an intriguing encounter on Sunday evening - a battle between second placed Blues and fifth placed Citizens. Emma Hayes' ladies were eager to leapfrog Sunderland, where they'd return to the top of the summit with five matches remaining.
After their disappointing, and rather surprising 4-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland last time out, the Blues were desperate to prove their quality with a tough opponent standing in their way.
It was not going to be easy, especially with City forward Toni Duggan enjoying a great vein of form. Naturally, she broke the deadlock after just twelve minutes on the clock. A cool finish from the talented English lady, she was set through by new signing Daphne Corboz and made no mistake in a one-on-one with 'keeper Hedvig Lindahl.
Chelsea had a few chances, but goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was fairly equal to the majority of them as the first-half continued. Ji So-Yun was a constant thorn in City's side as her quick turn of pace and mazy dribbling were a handful to deal with. Eniola Aluko was kept rather quiet as she was forced to feed upon scraps and create half-chances for her team-mates, with the sky Blues' backline holding firm with a slender lead going into the break.
As the second-half began, Chelsea upped the tempo almost immediately. Just three minutes after the referee blew the whistle to signal the start of the second 45, Eniola got her name on the scoresheet. A fine strike from her indeed, but from a City point of view, a poor goal to concede. Houghton defensively was rather suspect as she backed off, giving Aluko space on the edge of the area to run forward with the ball virtually stuck to her feet. Eniola made her pay, in some style with her effort flashing past Bardsley into the corner of the net to level the scoring.
After the equaliser, neither side could properly ascertain a good spell of possession or chances. Some feisty tackles galore, a few alterations made by either side as they were both eager to push ahead in the battle for supremacy and take the lead.
A vital sliding tackle by Jennifer Beattie denied Chelsea a clear goal-scoring opportunity with just over twenty minutes left on the clock, and it was important she timed the challenge perfectly. Luckily for her and the rest of her team-mates, she did just that - after midfielder Laura Coombs was set through on a run towards the edge of the area but eventually denied.
Nikita Parris span past her marker but was brought down as she attempted to race forward on the counter attack in a dangerous position. The referee blew his whistle for a free-kick and also brandished a yellow card to defender Niamh Fahey, whose tackle was cynical if nothing else.
Corboz weaved past a defender and let fly from the edge of the area - but her effort floated over the crossbar and out of play for a goal-kick with both sides pressing for a late winner with time running out. Beattie also fired an audacious strike goalwards, but it never looked like troubling the 'keeper as it spun away from goal and bounced into the crowd behind the goal.
With fifteen minutes remaining, City made an alteration - Corboz being replaced by Krystle Johnson. The latter stages of the match was cagey with fouls galore, and City managed to take the lead through a cruel stroke of luck with just a few minutes plus stoppages left.
Claire Rafferty was penalized for a deliberate tug back on midfielder Isobel Christiansen, and Houghton stepped up to the set-piece on the edge of the box. After two previous deliveries not troubling Lindahl, the visitors knew they needed something better this time around. That's exactly what they got.
The ball was fizzed into the area at pace, and Rafferty was teased into a clearance attempt - but unfortunately for the England international, the ball took a wicked deflection off her and past Lindahl into the corner of the net. The City side celebrated with jubilation that their hard work finally paid dividends, in a tough fixture it must be stressed.
Chelsea felt hard done by as they'd created plenty of half-chances in the second 45, none of which came to fruition though. Parris almost made it three-one in stoppage time with a venomous effort which produced a fantastic save from Lindahl, who was quick to parry the powerful strike away to her right. In the end, City were victorious - their fourth successive win.
Because of this result, Chelsea miss the opportunity to jump back to the top of the summit, sitting in third now. City meanwhile, are not too far behind. Fifth place at the moment, yes. But, only four points separate the top five sides in the division.