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Chelsea 2 Sunderland 1
Chelsea defeated Sunderland 2-1 to narrow Manchester City's lead at the top of FA WSL 1 to four points.
Once again the Blues conceded the first goal but were almost immediately level and had taken the lead before a quarter of the game had gone. The biggest surprise was that they were unable to add to their lead despite numerous chances and relentless pressure on the Sunderland goal. Resolute defending and brilliant goalkeeping by Rachael Laws kept the final outcome in doubt right up to the end.
Sunderland took the lead on six minutes when Beth Mead did well to win the ball and play in Stephanie Roche who hit a crisp low shot past Hedvig Lindahl from the edge of the area for her first WSL goal. The lead lasted less than two minutes though, Sunderland were penalised on the left and Karen Carney's free kick was met with a firm header by an unmarked Katie Chapman.
Gilly Flaherty headed against the bar but was flagged offside, then Carney played a delightful ball for Eniola Aluko but Laws was out well to close down the angle and save. Chelsea then took the lead on 21 minutes when Aluko centered from the left and Fran Kirby angled a delicate header beyond Laws.
Lindahl had to be quick off her line to clear from Beth Mead immediately following Chelsea's second but the focus of the game was still at the other end. Ji So-Yun went close from the edge of the area then Laws blocked a Kirby effort. Aluko hit a volley wide and Chelsea went to the break with a single goal advantage.
Chelsea's dominance was even more marked in the second period as they pushed for a third goal. Laws denied Aluko from close range on 53 minutes then Kirby went close with an overhead kick from Chapman's cross. Ji fired across goal when well placed, then Laws made two fine saves from Aluko, showing great reactions to reach and turn away powerful drives.
As the minutes ticked down, the visitors must have felt capable of rescuing an unlikely point but, in truth, they were rarely able to fashion any meaningful threat, apart from a freak deflected clearance which spun over Lindahl's bar on 79 minutes. Mead worked hard but was isolated in attack and it was Chelsea who continued to press right to the end, but were unable to add to their slender advantage.
Chelsea were impressive in everything but finishing and Sunderland were indebted to Laws for some fine saves to keep them in the game right to the final kick.
Chelsea: Hedvig Lindahl, Hannah Blundell, Niamh Fahey, Gilly Flaherty, Claire Rafferty (sub Ana Marques Borges 26mins), Katie Chapman, Ji So-Yun (sub Drew Spence 70mins), Gemma Davison (sub Beth England 80mins), Karen Carney, Enolia Aluko, Fran Kirby. Subs not used: Rebecca Spencer, Millie Bright, Jade Bailey, Laura Rafferty.
Sunderland: Rachael Laws, Danielle Brown, Stephanie Bannan, Hayley Sharp, Victoria Williams, Lucy Staniforth, Brooke Chaplen, Kelly McDougall (sub Rachel Furness 67mins), Keira Ramshaw (sub Krystle Johnston 61mins), Stephanie Roche, Beth Mead. Subs not used: Hilde-Gunn Olsen, Abbey Joice, Megan Beer, Charlotte Potts, Abby Holmes.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photo - Danielle Brown clears under pressure from Ana Marques Borges (www.jamesprickett.co.uk).
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