There’s been all sorts of drama and news around Chelsea Football Club lately, so this one got lost slightly in the shuffle. Chelsea Ladies Football Club also notched an important victory on Saturday, beating Bristol City 2-1 in the FA WSL Cup group stage.
RWB Blundell (Davison 70’)
LCM Spence (Kirby 82’)
LWB Dunn (Rafferty 70’)
Chelsea took their second win from as many games in this season's FA WSL Cup competition, prevailing on a last-minute penalty kick on Saturday night at Stoke Gifford Stadium in Bristol.
It was a surprisingly listless and dull first half from Chelsea, due perhaps in part to a massive amount of squad rotation ahead of the midweek Champions League match. Becky Spencer came in for Lindahl, who has been just about perfect this season. Millie Bright lost her starting spot to Maria Thorisdottir, which is likely down to the yellow card Bright picked up last Wednesday in the first cup match of the campaign. Despite a dynamic start to the season, Ji So-Yun and Bachmann were left watching from the sideline, while Fran Kirby spent the first hour riding the pine alongside them. Katie Chapman was another notable absentee from the lineup, as Hayes’ 3-5-2 had only Maren Mjelde keeping her spot from the last match's central midfield.
But while Chelsea may have been a little unsettled due to the thorough overhaul, Bristol City were also far more prepared and committed than the last time the two sides met, when Chelsea ran out 6-0 winners.
The Blues still had plenty of chances, as Drew Spence nearly opened the scoring in the early minutes. Hannah Blundell found Spence's run well, and only a great save from City's keeper prevented the powerful forward’s shot from finding the far corner of the net. Dangerous, incisive runs from midfield are becoming a hallmark of this side, and that surely won't be Spence’s last such chance.
It certainly wasn't the last chance for Chelsea in the half, despite the blockade that Bristol had deployed. With wingers and even center backs pushing further and further up the pitch for the Blues, Eni Aluko was able to squeeze through the defense and find room for an attempt. After that brilliant movement, her low shot deserved better than to be denied by the post.
That was a third of the way into the half, and it must've rung an alarm bell for City, as they closed ranks even tighter. Chelsea were reduced to shots from distance, with only Mjelde and Spence really testing the keeper before the halftime whistle.
The second period of play began on quite different tone. Chelsea still dominated possession and chances, but now there was a greater sense of urgency from Hayes’ side. Aluko, who has been in great form of late, put her name on the score sheet for the second consecutive match. Having left her defender for dead with an excellent turn at the top of the box, she found herself 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper and finished cooly and mercilessly past her. One-nil to the good, and no time for stopping.
The Blues poured on the pressure and their play warranted another two goals at least; Carney and then Spence both fired narrowly wide when the quality of the build-up cried out for better.
Hayes made sweeping changes just past the hour mark. First, Spence yielded to Kirby in the 63rd minute, and her arrival was swiftly followed by the introduction of Davison and Rafferty on the wings. But Bristol’s substitutions cancelled out the fresh-legs advantage Chelsea had hope to gain, and suddenly it was the home side who were looking dangerous — Chelsea swapping out a midfielder for a striker and shifting the balance of the attack from left to right contributed to the problems here. Hayes may have been too keen to go for the jugular, despite fielding an already immensely aggressive side to begin with.
Bristol let three good chances go begging before punishing Chelsea for their openness. Millie Turner smacked a ball towards goal and then followed up on Spencer's save to pull City level. It was the first goal Chelsea have conceded in domestic competition all season.
There was almost no time left to salvage the match, but never-say-die football warrior Karen Carney would not accept such a situation. A trademark driving run into the penalty box drew a foul and the England international was more than up for the task of dispatching it in added-on time.
The 2-1 win was certainly no more than Chelsea deserved on the balance of play. The Blues will now look ahead to the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Rosengard, which will be played on Wednesday night at Kingsmeadow and aired live on Chelsea TV.