Blues grabbed their first league win of the season last night following a 2-1 success over Chelsea Ladies at the DCS Stadium. Second half goals from Izzy Christiansen and Jo Potter put the hosts in control, before young Chelsea substitute Hannah Blundell made it a nervy last twenty minutes for Blues, but they held on for the three points. Boss David Parker made two alterations to the side that started the disappointing home draw with Lincoln, Marie Hourihan replacing Mary Earps in goal, and Kirsty Linnett coming in for Rachel Unitt, who will be missing for the remainder of the season following her ACL injury suffered in the Lincoln tie. This meant a back to basics set up for Blues, with Bassett and Westwood playing in the centre of defence, Harrop moving to left back, Potter and Moore marshalling the midfield and Linnett, Lawley and Christiansen supporting Williams in her usual lone striker role. Chelsea’s starting line up included former Blues favourites Dunia Susi and Eniola Aluko, the latter returning for the first time since her winter move to London.
As the rain eased in Stratford, Blues began brightly. Lawley started on the left wing up against Susi, and she had no problems taking on the England regular, beating her for pace on a number of occasions and setting up good attacking positions, as well as tracking back to assist Harrop in dealing with the lively Sofia Jakobsson. The early efforts came from Harrop, whose 25 yard drive flew wide of the post, before having a header saved by Telford from a Potter set piece. Christiansen cut inside from the right and floated a shot just wide, and Linnett’s long range strike was saved relatively comfortably by the England stopper. Chelsea got into the game as the half went on, and had chances through Helen Ward and Jakobsson, but the score remained goal less at half time.
Whatever Parker said to his troops at half time certainly made an impact, as merely twelve seconds into the second half, the home side were ahead. Rachel Williams strode forward straight from the kick off, and passed wide to Linnett, whose trickery and close control took her into the opposition territory before she slipped the ball into Christiansen, who had made an excellent run through the heart of the Chelsea defence. Her first touch set her up and, despite the angle being tight, powered her shot into the far corner past a helpless Telford. The goal shook the away side, and Blues took control of the game, before doubling the lead in spectacular style on 55 minutes. Midfield dynamo Potter picked up a loose ball which bounced off the referee and, all of 35 yards out, took aim and struck a thunderous effort which swerved and dipped over the outstretched arm of Telford and settled in the back of the net. Potter has shone in what has been a relatively low key start to the season for Blues, her performance against Lincoln in the recent Continental Cup match was very impressive, and again she was a star performer against a tough Chelsea midfield. Whilst it is incredibly unlikely this close to the European Championships, Potter has been arguably the most in form English midfielder this season, and would not look out of place if she was to earn a shock call up.
That sensational strike rocked Chelsea into life, and they began to show more attacking intent, with Jakobsson and Buet dictating the play, and with twenty minutes remaining they grabbed a lifeline. Substitute full back Blundell, a product of Chelsea’s academy scheme, brought a high ball down, cut inside and hit a sweet strike which flew past a despairing Hourihan. Chances came and went for the visitors, Buet and Susi shooting over, and despite Blues’ top scorer Williams having to be replaced with a dislocated finger, the home side held on for the all important three points, which leaves them only a point behind the Londeners, and three points off the league leaders Bristol.
It was a joy to see the younger players Linnett and Lawley play wide and attack their full backs. Considering Hope Powell considers Susi an England right back, Lawley won the battle between the two, as expressed above. It would be nice to see Lawley and Linnett be given a more expressive role in the side, and be encouraged to use their skills and abilities to worry teams. The girls are looking more confident and, as the season progresses, with a mixture of the experienced and young talent, the side should find a way to get the best out of the flair players, and no doubt this will provide a very exciting viewing experience for the fans.
Blues have two more fixtures before the season breaks for the European Championships. These are at home to leaders Bristol Academy on June 5th, and away to Liverpool the following Saturday.
Blues: Hourihan, Weston, Bassett (c), Westwood, Harrop, Linnett (Torkildsen 75), Potter, Moore, Lawley, Christiansen, Williams (Wilkinson 89). Subs not used: Earps, George, Simpkins, Haines.
Chelsea: Telford, Susi, Davies, Holtham, Vidarsdottir (Blundell 70), Jakobsson, Buet, Gardarsdottir (Ester 51), Bleazard (Spence 62), Aluko, Ward. Subs not used: Cole, Myers, Coombs, Longhurst.Player of the Match: Mel Lawley