Chelsea Women got 2019 off to a flying start with a 3-0 win over Everton, watched by a huge league crowd who were making the most of a seasonal free ticket deal.
With a trio of different scorers, numerous close shaves, some fine goalkeeping and a constant attacking outlook, there was plenty to enjoy at a chilly Kingsmeadow as Beth England provided the perfect opening, sliding home an Erin Cuthbert cross in the sixth minute.
But hopes of the floodgates opening were dashed as the woodwork, and some nimble aerobatics from Toffees keeper Kirsty Levell restricted the Blues for the remainder of the first half.
Although Everton striker Elise Hughes thumped the ball into the Chelsea net as early as the second minute – a strike ruled out for offside – that was as close as the visitors came to scoring, so a clean sheet was an added bonus for manager Emma Hayes as the team embark on a busy week which includes a home tie against Reading in the Conti Cup and a visit to league leaders Arsenal next weekend.
The corner count, as Chelsea kept up relentless pressure, was telling. The Blues had 12 to Everton’s one – a fair reflection on the balance of chances.
Near miss of the afternoon came after 25 minutes when defender Millie Bright shot from 40 yards – a screamer which sent the Everton crossbar into wobbles.
The Toffees briefly threatened when Hughes fed Chloe Kelly in the 39th minute, but Hedvig Lindahl – whose place between the sticks is now threatened by the arrival of new signing Ann-Katrin Berger on a four-year deal – pulled off an excellent point-blank save.
Drew Spence made it 2-0 to the Blues on the hour mark, converting a corner by captain Kaz Carney, before Hannah Blundell – always dangerous down the right – wrapped it up by stroking home No3, nine minutes later.
Blundell admitted that her goal – a relative rarity – had come about as a result of the manager urging her to push forward a bit more and take her chances. “Emma’s been getting on my back a lot recently!” she said. “I don’t really know what happened with my goal today, to be honest. They don’t really come round very often, but she’s been telling me to get in the final third and get shots off as well, and thankfully it’s paid off.
She added: “We wanted to make sure we started the year with a win and a good performance as well. We’ve worked really hard in training over the past couple of weeks, and it’s shown today on the pitch. We’re disappointed that we only [scored] three – we’ve been practising in training, but we’ve got a clean sheet and it’s a great start to 2019.
“We’ve got a great group of girls, we worked hard in the off-season – everyone did – and we’ve come back raring to go. We’ve been making sure we’ve been solid at the back and thankfully now the goals are going in at the other end.”
The drama returns to Kingsmeadow on Wednesday night, with the Continental Tyres League Cup match against Reading at 7.30pm. Tickets: http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?agency=CLFC_PUBLIC&organ_val=51291&schedule=list&_ga=2.146907127.1593336094.1538038070-13131943.1493031269