Well, you couldn’t fault the effort. Chelsea fought and fought, but just couldn’t get the goal they needed to beat Birmingham on Sunday.
The result, at a sun-soaked Autotech stadium in Solihull, was yet another 0-0… while Arsenal and Man City continued to soar away in their respective matches, apparently scoring goals for fun with half a dozen apiece against Reading and Brighton.
Once again, it was an opposing keeper who made all the difference. On this occasion, Ann-Katrin Berger (by a long chalk the player of the match) denied the Blues, notably when she guessed correctly and dived left to prevent a Karen Carney penalty flying in.
The Blues, led up front by Erin Cuthbert, Fran Kirby and the dominant and fearless Beth England, had the lionesses’ share of possession and attack. In fact Hedvig Lindahl hardly had anything to do in the Chelsea goal.
But despite a string of close shaves and heroic last-ditch blocking by Birmingham – reduced to 10 women after a late red card – Chelsea left with yet another 0-0 draw away. It’s their third blank in three away games this season.
Yet manager Emma Hayes can draw comfort from the workrate which, considering the team’s many other commitments, saw the intensity increase rather than drop away in the final frantic minutes.
Chelsea, playing in yellow for the lunchtime kick-off, have now all but written off their chances of retaining the league title. Unless Arsenal Women implode, the WSL trophy is theirs. This must be how other teams felt, lower down the league, last season as the Blues romped to glory.
Keeper Berger made save after save, firstly from Drew Spence after 19 minutes with a fierce left-foot shot, before England’s shot ricocheted off the post and away to safety.
Just before the half-hour mark, Kirby was fed by Ji So-Yun, only to see Berger again ride to Birmingham’s rescue. Cuthbert later saw her shot deflected wide, while a close-range low-slung Kirby header resulted in yet another save.
In the second half, Carney and Ramona Bachmann came on for Cuthbert and England as Chelsea maintained the pressure, and when Ji won a penalty in the 74th minute it looked like the breakthrough had arrived. Carney took responsibility, and went right instead of left, to try to fox Berger, who was aware that she’d plumped for the opposite corner against Fiorentina in midweek.
But the bluff didn’t work and the flying goalie palmed it out and away. Despite late drama with Hayley Ladd being sent off for a second yellow (her first being earned in the 12th minute for backchat to ref Amy Fearn), Chelsea couldn’t capitalise on a numerical advantage and had to settle for another draw and another single point, leaving the club stuck in mid-table.
Hayes finally has a clear week without a game to work on sharpening tactics to release the pent-up flow of goals which was such an entertaining feature of last season. It isn’t through want of effort, but something is missing this year that needs to be addressed.
Perhaps, as Hayes has speculated in recent post-match interviews, it is the rising improvement in all the WSL teams that explains the drought. Maybe it’s that other clubs lift their game when they face the reigning champions. But that still doesn’t explain why Arsenal – and others – are still scoring freely while Chelsea seem to be firing so many blanks. To see both Arsenal and City fire six goals against their opponents on the same afternoon is galling. Six goals used to be Chelsea’s trademark margin of victory.
The Blues welcome Liverpool to Kingsmeadow on Sunday lunchtime, October 28, at a revised time of 12.30pm – brought forward from the original 2pm. For all Chelsea Women ticket news visit: http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?agency=CLFC_PUBLIC&organ_val=51291&schedule=list&_ga=2.146907127.1593336094.1538038070-13131943.1493031269