Blues failed to break down a resolute Everton side at the Select Security Stadium last night, leaving the FAWSL title very much in the hands of Chelsea, who are now two points clear of the Midlands side with three games remaining.
The away side were unchanged from their recent 3-1 victory at Bristol Academy, with Everton making one forced change, young striker Lucy Whipp replacing the suspended Nikita Parris.
In light of their lowly league position, it was a surprise to see Everton begin the game defending very deep, allowing Blues to control the game in midfield, where they enjoyed the majority of possession in their opponents half, which lasted for the whole of the first 45 minutes. Winger Mel Lawley was the liveliest of the attacking Blues stars, causing the hosts plenty of problems on the left wing, and bringing a good low save from Brown-Finnis in the Everton goal early on. Lawley's cross three minutes later found Karen Carney, who headed just over, before Lawley again cut inside from the left to shoot just wide. The England U20 trickster then fed full back Jess Carter who forced Brown-Finnis into a smart stop, driving a testing shot from 25 yards, and from the resulting corner Danielle Turner hacked the ball off the line following a goalmouth scramble. Blues continued to control the possession stats, especially inside Everton's half, but the final killer pass was lacking. Carney and Kirsty Linnett had half chances as the half wore on, but Everton, understandably, were determined not to concede and made life hard for Blues' playmakers. The visitors suffered a blow minute before half time when Jade Moore suffered a reoccurrence of the ankle injury which affected her recent international duty, and she was replaced by Emily Westwood, a straight swap in the centre of midfield.
Ten minutes after the break, the only moment of controversy in the game flared up when Remi Allen collided with Toffees midfielder Brooke Chaplen who, unhappy with Allen's challenge, aimed a kick out at Allen. The incident could not have been seen by the referee clearly, as she was only given a talking to, a matter which was made worse when minutes later she was booked for a foul on Westwood, and may well feel she was lucky to stay on. The hosts were defending bravely, but never really looked threatening going forward until their best chance of the game fell to Whipp on the hour mark. Indecision in the Blues defence led to a loose ball being picked up by the U19 England international, but her shot flew over Becky Spencer's crossbar, much to the relief of the away side. This was the closest Everton came to scoring, as David Parker desperately tried everything to see his side grab a crucial goal that would have taken them above Chelsea to the top of the table. Turner was in the right place at the right time for Everton again from a Blues corner, Aoife Mannion's header cleared off the line, before Vicky Jones did the same from another Mannion header with ten minutes remaining. Brown-Finnis was looking confident in the hosts' goal, saving from Lawley, while Linnett headed inches wide from a delightful Carney cross, as Blues threw everything at their opponents, but their best chance was yet to come. As the clock ticked into injury time, Carney fed. Linnett on the right hand side of the Everton box, and her inch perfect cross bounced horrendously on the artificial surface, leaving Westwood ending up neither heading nor tapping the ball home, as it bounced harmlessly wide. Everton held out the remainder of added on time, leaving neither side pleased with the outcome.
The draw leaves Everton bottom of the table, four points behind Notts County with four games remaining, including a six pointer when they travel to Meadow Lane to face County. Blues are now on 21 points, two behind leaders Liverpool, and two ahead of next opponents Liverpool.
Chelsea have the advantage of playing the day before Blues, knowing victory away at Notts County would open up a five point gap before their two rivals for the title play each other a day later. If County were to stop the London side picking up all three points however, it would be a huge boost to both Blues and Liverpool, with both teams knowing a win would put them right back in the race. You have to make Chelsea favourites to lift the trophy on October 12, but this season has proved on many occasions any team can beat anyone on their day, so Blues have to believe three wins from their remaining games (Liverpool at home, Man City away and Notts County at home) could very well lead them to their first ever WSL title, and cap an incredible season for this group of players.
The Liverpool game is to be shown live on BT Sport on Sunday September 21st, a midday kick off, but it would be a huge boost to the players if there was a bumper crowd at Solihull Moors' Autotech Stadium, especially with the season drawing to a close, and so much still to play for.
Blues: Spencer, Weston, Mannion, Harrop, Carter, Potter, Moore (Westwood 44), Allen, Lawley, Carney (c), Linnett. Subs not used: Baggaley, Sargeant, Wellings, Torkildsen, Stringer, Keryakoplis
Everton: Brown-Finnis, Jones, Johnson, George, Greenwood, Turner, Chaplen, Hinnigan (c), Jones, Turner, Whipp. Subs not used: Walsh, Whelan, Handley, Magill, Williams, Kane, Davies
Select Security Stadium
Referee: T Neild