Manchester City’s Women’s Super League title hopes appear to be fading while Chelsea inch closer to the crown after an enthralling 2-2 draw at The Academy Stadium.
City twice came from behind against the reigning champions but a stunning late save from Ann-Katrin Berger denied them victory and maintained Chelsea’s two-point lead at the top with two games to go.
Framed as a WSL title decider, the contest lived up to its billing with quality, controversy and drama aplenty as the season builds towards its conclusion.
The importance of the game was evident in a tense opening 15 minutes in which both sides mustered a couple half-chances but nothing to really seize the early initiative.
Something surely had to give as Chelsea came to Manchester with the hot-shot goal scoring pair of Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby in fine form (31 goals between them this year) while City ‘keeper Ellie Roebuck hadn’t conceded a goal in her last five league games.
And it would indeed be the Australian Kerr who got the breakthrough, getting the better of Caroline Weir to power home a header from Erin Cuthbert’s corner that Alex Greenwood was unable to stop on the line at the near post.
Chelsea had City rocking at the back and Kerr then nearly made it 2-0 just a couple of minutes later but fired wide when well-placed.
As has been the case all season, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly, City’s two young England internationals, provided their main attacking threat and it was the two who combined, Hemp whipping a low ball across the six-yard box for Kelly to stab in, to level things up.
The equaliser did little to deter Chelsea though, and they were back ahead just five minutes later courtesy of a Pernille Harder penalty.
Kerr was the spark once more, turning Greenwood inside out as she broke towards goal before appearing to just beat Roebuck to the ball and draw the contact from the ‘keeper, though she and City will point to TV replays which seemed to show a touch on the ball.
Harder stepped up and the Dane made no mistake, sending Roebuck the wrong way to make it 2-1.
The game became more a frenetic affair in the second-half with City pushing for the equaliser, while Chelsea always threatened on the counter.
City began to exert more and more pressure on the Chelsea defence but were generally starved of any clear-cut opportunities.
In fact, it would take a series of mistakes to bring the equaliser – first from Kirby, giving the ball away to Kelly with a wayward pass, before Millie Bright swiped at Kelly’s cross, the ball landing at the feet of the dangerous Hemp to sweep home.
City manager Gareth Taylor said afterwards that late on ‘there only looked like one winner’ as his side pressed for the valuable third goal but they came up against German international Ann-Katrin Berger in inspired form between the posts.
With 10 minutes to go, Greenwood’s near-post corner was met by Hemp only for Berger to produce a sensational reflex save to tip the header on to the bar and deny Hemp the winner.
Berger made two further saves, again from Hemp and then from Georgia Stanway before Lucy Bronze also missed a golden chance for City in stoppage time as she ghosted in unmarked but headed wide.
Despite the draw, Chelsea Manager Emma Hayes’ celebrations at the final whistle illustrated the magnitude of the result for the Londoners and leaves City needing a Chelsea slip up in their two remaining fixtures to have any hope of regaining the title.
Main photo credit: Esperando, CC BY-SA 4.0
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons