Chelsea Women 2 Man United Women 1
Manchester United Women fell to a first Women’s Super League defeat of the season as Chelsea were victorious at Kingsmeadow on Sunday.
It was a true top-of-the-table clash as Casey Stoney’s Reds travelled south as league leaders, three points ahead of the hosts in second place.
Unfortunately, it was not to be United's day. The Blues took the lead after 30 minutes when Pernille Harder capitalised following enormous Chelsea pressure following a corner. That lead was cancelled out by Lauren James’ wonderfully curled effort on the hour-mark. Shortly after our equaliser, Fran Kirby put the Blues back in front to make sure the game ended 2-1 to Emma Hayes' side.
The result means the Reds' unbeaten league run ends at eleven games and Chelsea move above us in the WSL table on goal difference, with the Blues also having a game in hand.
Stoney made three changes from the line-up that beat Bristol City 6-1 in December, with Kirsty Hanson, Hayley Ladd and Christen Press coming in for Katie Zelem, Jess Sigsworth and Tobin Heath.
Both teams came firing out of the blocks, pressing with high intensity from the off. Chelsea’s Sam Kerr, who scored in the reverse fixture between the sides in September, had the first chance of the afternoon five minutes in. The attacker came running down the left but Amy Turner did well to use her pace to disturb Kerr as she was about to finish from an acute angle.
United’s first attacks came down the right, where Ella Toone looked lively. Press, who led the line for United in the capital, provided constant options for her team-mates with her movement.
Chelsea then took a foot-hold in the game. Fran Kirby burst down the left on 12 minutes and found Kerr in the area. The latter fired a shot towards goal but Millie Turner got a crucial touch on the ball which took it wide.
Shortly after, Kerr was one on one with Mary Earps but our keeper was quick off her line to put pressure on the Chelsea forward, who once again fired wide. A big chance for the home side.
The game evened out more midway through the first half. Press had a sniff off goal after 26 minutes when a cross from Kirsty Hanson reached the feet of the American. Our no. 24 pulled off a half-volleyed finish which went inches wide for a Chelsea goal-kick.
Unfortunately, it was the Blues who took the lead on the half-hour mark. Earps saved a Kirby shot for a corner but then the Blues forced in the opener. A header was heroically blocked off the line by Amy Turner before Kirby smashed the ball off the post and back into play. There, Pernille Harder was first to react as she scored the first goal.
Towards the end of the half, United had some dangerous attacks. First, Leah Galton, who was crowned as WSL Player of the Month for December, went on a trademark run down the wing but her cross from the byline was blocked. Then, Hanson rounded Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger and put the ball in the back of the net. Unfortunately, our no. 18 was flagged offside and so the Reds went into the break a goal behind.
As we looked for an equaliser, Stoney decided to change things up. Ten minutes into the second half, Lauren James came on with fresh legs as she replaced Press.
And what a substitution it was! On 61 minutes, the tricky attacker combined with Toone as our substitute created space for herself 20 yards out. From the edge of the box, James curled a beautiful shot into the bottom far corner to equalise.
Towards the end of the game, United looked to level the scores once again and Jess Sigsworth came on for Hanson.
With nine minutes to go, the Reds mounted pressure on the Blues. James won a corner which she whipped to the back post towards Millie Turner. The cross was punched away but Galton kept the pressure on and won another corner but unfortunately there was not a big chance which came from it.
Despite United’s search for a second equaliser, Kirby’s goal proved to be the last in a keenly contested match, sealing our first WSL defeat of the season and sending Chelsea above us in the table.
UNITED: Earps; Battle, A. Turner (c), M. Turner, Smith; Ladd, Groenen, Hanson (Sigsworth 75); Toone, Press (James 55), Galton.
Substitutes not used: Bentley, Harris, McManus, Zelem, Fuso, Heath, Ross.
Goal: James 61.Bookings: Groenen.
Chelsea: Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson; Leupolz, Ji (Reiten 77); Kirby, Harder (Ingle 70), Cuthbert; Kerr (England 70).Substitutes not used: Blundell, Fleming, Spence, Charles, Telford.
Goals: Harder 30, Kirby 65.Bookings: Reiten.
Referee: Rebecca Welom.