Chelsea Ladies’ final pre-season friendly was a goal-filled affair on an entertaining Sunday afternoon at Wheatsheaf Park…
England duo Eniola Aluko and Fran Kirby combined to score five of our goals, the former netting a hat-trick, and there was also a couple of goals for new signing Bethany England.
With the majority of the squad away on international duty for the past fortnight, Emma Hayes’ team selection mixed youth with experience on a day when fans turned up early on a sunny day to take part in fun and games outside the the stadium and to have their photo taken with the FA WSL1 and FA Women’s Cup trophies.
Young keeper Fran Kitching took the gloves with a back four of Hannah Blundell, Niamh Fahey, Gilly Flaherty and Jenna Legg in front of her. New signings Karen Carney and England were among an attacking midfield line-up, along with Drew Spence, recent international centurion Aluko and Gemma Davison. Kirby was selected to lead the line.
There was also three familiar names in the Bristol City line-up; Rosella Ayane, Jodie Brett and Millie Farrow were all selected to start against their parent club, having joined the WSL2 side on loan.
It was Farrow who made an immediate impact, scoring in the sixth minute with a goal out of nowhere. The finish, however, was spectacular as she sent a delightful chip over the head of Kitching and into the back of the net.
The lead proved to be short lived as the Blues equalised five minutes later. Kirby broke clear down the left after dispossessing a Bristol defender and she unselfishly squared for Aluko, who took a touch and composed herself before tucking the ball into the far corner.
Both teams enjoyed plenty of joy down the flanks, with the Blues looking particularly strong attacking down the left through the goalscorer and provider. Both Carney and England were also enjoying themselves in their first Blues start at Wheatsheaf Park, the former testing Hannah Reid with a fizzing drive from distance and the latter forcing an even better stop with a header.
A tactical switch saw Drew Spence move into the No10 role and England dropping back, and within a matter of minutes the Blues had scored twice. The first was a wonderful goal. Aluko sent Kirby away down the right and continued her run into the box to receive the return pass and smash home into the bottom corner.
Having set up the first two goals, Kirby got in on the act herself just moments after the restart as she ran onto a slide-rule pass from England and knocked the ball through the keeper’s legs. Only 24 minutes had been played and already the fans were treated to four goals.
In truth, there should have been far more before the Blues netted again just before the break. Chances went begging, but they were quickly forgotten as Kirby bagged her second of the afternoon with a spectacular goal.
There seemed to be little danger when Blundell received the ball on the right and clipped the ball into Aluko, but the deft flick from Chelsea’s No9 found our right-back in space to send a lofted pass through for Kirby to exquisitely volley the ball past the keeper. Wheatsheaf Park rose as one to applaud a magnificent effort, which brought to a close an entertaining half of football.
An unchanged line-up took to the field for the second half and there was no change in the balance of play as Chelsea scored within two minutes of the restart. Kirby was involved again as she played in Davison and although Reid’s brilliant save kept out the winger, England was on hand to smash home her first goal for the club.
Hayes made her first substitution after 52 minutes when Millie Bright replaced the impressive Legg, and another change followed soon after with Blundell making way for Katie Chapman and the Blues switching to three at the back.
A sixth goal wasn’t long in arriving and this time it was Aluko completing a clinical hat-trick. Carney was the creator after being found in the box by Kirby and the finish was as simple as they come.
As with any pre-season friendly, the changes came thick and fast and the Blues replaced the hat-trick hero, Fahey and Kitching with Ji So-Yun, Laura Rafferty and Hedvig Lindahl.
Ji almost crafted a seventh goal which would have been a carbon copy of Kirby’s excellent effort in the first half, but although England made good contact with her volley, Reid produced a stop of the highest order to keep the score down to six.
The keeper brilliantly denied Kirby again with just five minutes to play, and then the England forward could only find the side netting after going past the keeper. A hat-trick wasn’t to be hers on this occasion, but she and the Blues could be very happy with their afternoon’s work, which concluded with another fine goal by England after being sent clear by Spence.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Kitching (Lindahl 63); Blundell (Chapman 55), Fahey (L Rafferty 63), Bright, Legg (Bright 52); Carney, Spence; Davison, England, Aluko (Ji 63); Kirby
Goals: Aluko 10, 23, 58, Kirby 24, 43, England 47, 90