Chelsea welcomed back popular former player Gemma Davison to Kingsmeadow, then held on to a single-goal lead until the final whistle to defeat visiting Reading on Sunday afternoon.
It was Chelsea Women’s fifth victory on the spin, and a seventh consecutive clean sheet.
Kelly Chambers’ Reading, playing in black, were ultimately undone by Ji So-Yun’s goal (her 50th for the Blues) shortly after the restart; a coolly taken shot to plant Ramona Bachmann’s through ball beyond Grace Moloney.
“Was it my 50th [Chelsea] goal? Really! I didn’t know,” said Ji afterwards. “I’m extremely happy to have won today, and to score. We knew it would be a tough game today, but we deserved to win.”
The Blues leapfrog the Royals to fourth in the table. Millie Bright was monumental in defence, with her wide and lofted passes providing the springboard for many a Chelsea attack.
She also had to contain her former teammate Davison, who has switched to a free-ranging forward’s role with her new team.
Emma Hayes was pleased with her players’ efforts, after keeping faith with the same side that defeated Yeovil 5-0 exactly a fortnight earlier, with the sole exception of switching the experienced Hedvig Lindahl into goal in place of Carly Telford. “I thought it was one of our best performances all season,” she said, standing on the touchline on an unseasonably mild afternoon as the 1,741-strong crowd made their way home. “We were outstanding. Reading are very good at making things difficult for other teams; we dominated first and second balls, we used the width well, we improved the longer the game went on… the only thing that flatters them is the scoreline.”
Chelsea seemed re-energised after the interval, following a first half in which Millie Bright teed up Jonna Andersson, whose shot struck the post, and Bachmann, Erin Cuthbert, Ji and Hannah Blundell combined well together to carve out openings. For the visitors, Fara Williams came closest; her free kick just overshooting to land on the roof of Lindahl’s net.
What had Hayes said to spark the reinvigorated display for the second 45? “Start the second half better than we started the first,” she said. Simple as that! “We were getting into great areas, but overplaying. Our final-third play was probably the poorest today; but I don’t recall Hedvig having to make a save.”
And that clean sheet? “If you want to win the coveted prizes, you have to be solid defensively. I can’t control what goes on in the league, but I can influence what goes on in every other department, and that will be our backbone.”
Ji’s goal followed several saves by Moloney between the Reading sticks. Bachmann’s low pass reached the South Korean in the 48th minute, and Ji – calm as you like – controlled, shot and found the corner of the net.
Gemma Davison was given a warm round of applause by both Reading and Chelsea fans when the No9 was subbed with eight minutes of the second half remaining. There had been a pre-match presentation to her of some photo memories of her time at Chelsea, and a silver engraved dish.
The Continental Cup on Wednesday, against Yeovil Town – who must by now be sick of the sight of marauding blue shirts – will give Hayes a chance to ring the changes and give starts to returning and patiently waiting squad players, with Anita Asante, Deanna Cooper and Jade Bailey all being pencilled in as priorities on the teamsheet.