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Chelsea 2 (Rafferty 15, Flaherty 50) Notts County 1 (Clarke 59)
Chelsea made it five straight wins in all competitions and extended their lead at the top of the WSL 1 to five points with victory over Notts County.
It was an even, edgy start in the Staines sunshine as both sides worked to size one another up in the opening exchanges. Much of County's threat came from their aerial strength and set piece deliveries, just as it had done in the return at the County Ground on the opening day of the season in March and at Wembley.
Katie Chapman steered a dangerous Sophie Walton free kick behind early on before Hedvig Lindahl made a comfortable save to deny Ellen White. The hosts grew into the contest throughout the first quarter of an hour as Gemma Davison fired straight into the midriff of Carly Telford, before the Blues broke the deadlock after fifteen minutes. The attack came down the right side as Hannah Blundell advanced and picked out a brilliant cross for Claire Rafferty, who had drifted forward from left back. The defender was not going to waste the opportunity to score her first goal of the campaign, placing a perfect header past Telford to put her side in front.
The visiting goalkeeper had to react quickly moments later as Alex Greenwood's loose back pass almost fell to the alert Fran Kirby, however the former Chelsea stopper was off her line swiftly to avert the danger.
County's high defensive line was allowing plenty of opportunity for the pace of Davison, Kirby and Eniola Aluko to threaten in behind and one such counter attack, came close to fashioning a second Chelsea goal. Aluko led the charge following a Notts County corner and waited ruthlessly before finding Ji So-Yun's run with a perfect pass. It was a big moment in the game and, with the South Korean bearing down on goal, Telford stood tall before denying the forward with an excellent reaction stop.
Lindahl saved comfortably again from White and Ji shot tamely at Telford, while Chapman headed narrowly off-target from Ji's right-sided corner as Emma Hayes' side ended the half in the ascendancy.
The league leaders picked up in the second half from where they had left off in the first and ought to have doubled their lead a few minutes after the restart. Chapman found Davison with a raking pass out to the right and the winger skipped past Greenwood with ease before cutting back for Ji. The forward had time to control the ball and tee herself up, though her close-range strike was kept out brilliantly by Telford.
The influential County keeper had performed admirably to keep her side in the game but she was helpless two minutes later as the Blues found the elusive, crucial second goal. Ji's floated free kick into the box wasn't dealt with and Flaherty pounced on to the loose ball, rifling a wonderful half volley into the roof of the net.
Lindahl punched away an effort from Desiree Scott but Chelsea remained on top and came close to extending their lead further as Ji cut inside her defender and bent a curling strike just wide.
Moments later, the game swung back into County's favour as they reduced the deficit somewhat against the run of play, Jess Clarke picking up a loose pass at the back and firing a low shot that squirmed underneath Lindahl and into the back of the net.
The visitors were boosted by the goal and grew stronger as they looked to snatch a point in the final half hour. Hayes replaced Ji with Millie Bright in an attempt to shore up the midfield and combat County's power in the air, with Kirby left to lead the line up front.
Yet the defensive solidity that has served the team so well in recent weeks was demonstrated once more and the visitors were kept relatively clear of Lindahl's goal as the Blues recorded a third win of the season over Notts County and remained top of the league with two games left to play.
Chelsea: Hedvig Lindahl, Hannah Blundell, Niamh Fahey, Gilly Flaherty, Claire Rafferty (sub Ana Borges 24mins), Eniola Aluko (sub Laura Coombs 87mins), Drew Spence, Katie Chapman, Gemma Davison, Fran Kirby, Ji So Yun (sub Millie Bright 73mins). Subs not used: Marie Hourihan, Jenna Legg, Jodie Brett, Marija Banusic.
Notts County: Carly Telford, Laura Bassett, Amy Turner, Alex Greenwood, Aileen Whelan (sub Danielle Buet 62mins), Leanne Crichton (sub Ashleigh Plumptre 80mins), Desiree Scott, Sophie Walton, Rachel Williams, Ellen White, Jess Clarke. Subs not used: Siobhan Chamberlain, Alice Hassall, Laura-Jayne O'Neill.
(Report by www.fawsl.com)
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