Sam Kerr’s eagerly anticipated Chelsea debut ended in a 3-1 win in the FAWSL against Reading.
Second-half goals from Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert mean that Emma Hayes’s side keep up with the pace at the top of the table.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though as the title chasers fell behind due to a Fara Williams strike in the first half. But the Blues showed the character to fight back from a losing position. A key trait which has been evident during Emma Hayes’s Chelsea tenure.
Story of the match
The big story coming into this match was the debut of new signing Sam Kerr, and the Australian International nearly opened her account in the first minute when she was played through on goal but unfortunately placed her effort over the bar.
What a story that would have been!
Reading managed to diffuse the early threat from the home side on the whole and had their first attempt on target in the 8th minute when Brooke Chaplen’s long-range strike was caught by Ann-Katrin Berger in the Chelsea goal.
But the Royals were the side against the run of play who took the lead in the 14th minute which shocked the Kingsmeadow faithful.
Chaplen’s lay off in the box was smashed in by the Reading’s dangerous Fara Williams for her third FAWSL goal of the season, and her sixth in all competitions.
Here was the opener:
All eyes then went on Chelsea and how would they respond to that early set back with their confidence already shaken after their 1-1 draw against Liverpool a few weeks ago.
And the Blues reacted by immediately going up the other end and creating an incident that got Grace Moloney sent off for the visitors.
The Irish Goalkeeper wiped out Sam Kerr who was bearing down on goal just outside the box.
Brooke Chaplen was the player who had to suffer the consequences of the early change due to the sending off.
All that good work for Kelly Chambers’s side early on was now in tatters, as the prospect of facing Chelsea with 10 players for three quarters of the match seemed a daunting prospect for any side.
The question going into the end of the first half was how long the Royals backline could keep the lethal Blues attack out? It looked inevitable that a goal would come before the 40th minute with Ji firstly sending her strike wide of Laws' goal. Then minutes after Beth England’ was found in acres of space in the box, but her goal-bound effort was superbly saved by the Reading substitute goalkeeper.
Reading still posed a threat even with 10 players, and a goal mouth scramble nearly led to Remi Allen poking home a surprise second for the depleted visitors.
Berger in the Chelsea goal looked like she was struggling after the incident- holding her stomach after the Blues backline smothered the chance.
The inevitable happened on the 40th minute mark with Bethany England levelling the game at 1-1 after a lovely flicked pass from Kerr found England who went through on goal, rounded Laws and slotted home for her 7th WSL goal of the season.
Surprisingly, the visitors nearly took a 2-1 lead right on the stroke of half-time, but Amalie Eikeland couldn’t steer home her effort from a free kick.
Going into half-time both sides would have been in different aspects- Chelsea with equalising and Reading with the fact that they were playing some lovely football (before the red card) at the home of the one of the strong title contenders in the WSL.
The Royals were sent out early for the start of the second half, looking solely motivated to try their best to conserve a point from this match.
The opening ten minutes of the second half was a slow burner. Chelsea keeping retained possession but Reading able to easily defend what the home side threw at them.
That soon changed with a corner in the 57th minute which somehow didn’t cross the Reading line after nearly every Blues player in the Reading box had an opportunity to score. But the resilient defending and brave efforts of Rachael Law prevented the Kingsmeadow club from taking the lead for the first time in this contest.
The Blues weren’t going to be denied for too long though, as in the 64th minute Sam Kerr spurned another one-on-one opportunity. However, teammate Guro Reiten spared her blushes with a lovely chipped goal outside the box from the rebound.
Hayes’s side weren’t finished there, and it was clear that the main aim for Reading now was damage limitation with Fara Williams being subbed off straight after the goal for defender Natasha Harding.
3-1 was inevitable at this point and that third and precious goal to seal the game nearly came in the 69th minute, but England couldn’t get enough power on her header to beat Laws from close range after a Kerr delivery from the right.
And the inevitability of the 3rd goal turned into reality in the 75th when substitute Erin Cuthbert followed up Bethany England’s header which was parried out to the Scottish International who finished at ease to make sure of the win for the Blues.
Unexpectedly the Royals nearly made it a nervy ending for the Blues, but Millie Farrow’s one-on-one effort was well saved by Berger.
The last knockings of the game was greeted by Jamie-Lee Napier making her Chelsea debut from the bench.
But after initial fear with falling 1-0 behind, the afternoon turned in the way the blues would have wanted.
Takeaways from match
Looking relaxed and focussed in the warmup, the chances of Sam Kerr having an eventful day on the pitch seemed more than certain.
And that prediction came true in the first minute when the 26-year-old was played through on goal, but the forward couldn’t keep her effort down.
She was the player who got Moloney sent off and provided the assist for the Chelsea equaliser. The Australian also had a number of chances which she failed to convert in the first half, but it was certainly a more than decent first period for the new signing.
The only concern throughout the game was the fact that on a number of occasions- she looked like she was struggling to run. This was no surprise with the heavy strapping on the player’s left thigh.
Despite having a quieter second half, one of the ‘world’s best players’ still had a rather eventful 45 minutes.
Missing another one-on-one which led to the second Chelsea goal and nearly getting a second assist rather summed up her luck today.
Despite not scoring a goal, Kerr was dangerous today and will cause many WSL defences many problems in future games. But overall it was a successful debut for the attacker.
Chelsea keep up pressure on the title-chasers
This win for Chelsea takes them to 26 points in the table.
Although not looking likely to leapfrog either Arsenal or Manchester City in the table after this matchday, the win was so important for Hayes’s side to maintain the pressure on the current top two.
But we have to remember that the Blues have a game in hand on the two sides above meaning that they sit in a very good position as the FAWSL is about to heat up as January commences.
Player of the Match
The striker caused the Reading defence chaos every time she received the ball in the opposition box.
Chelsea’s number 9 linked up well with Sam Kerr in the match and this was shown for her only goal.
On another day- she could have had more but seven goals so far this season in the FAWSL is an impressive return.