Shot of Chelsea and Man City at Kingsmeadow

Manchester City beat Chelsea to blow WSL title race wide open

Manchester City blew the Women’s Super League title race wide open with a narrow and tense 1-0 win over defending champions Chelsea at Kingsmeadow.

The result saw the visitors move level on points with their hosts at the top of the league, although Chelsea remain top on goals scored.

Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Manchester United moved them just three points behind the pair.

The decisive moment came in the 14th minute as captain Erin Cuthbert was uncharacteristically dispossessed by the tenacious Jess Park, who played WSL top scorer Khadija Shaw through to stab past Hannah Hampton.

Park’s role in the City opener was symbolic of her recent return to form that has seen her recalled to the senior England team by Sarina Wiegman this week.

She said: “I’m really enjoying this new role and the girls around me give me a platform to go on and play with freedom in the middle of the park.”

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes played down talk of it being a WSL title decider, but the primetime BBC slot and sold-out crowd demonstrated that the fixture was a huge event in English women’s football.

Chelsea started the brighter of the two sides, with winger Lauren James looking sharp following her late withdrawal from the FA Cup victory over Crystal Palace at the weekend.

But Chelsea will be disappointed to have given their opponents the lead in the manner that they did, with the sold-out crowd being silenced by the early City opener.

The goal seemed to leave Chelsea on the ropes as City probed for a second goal and likely knock out blow.

Jess Carter’s error almost let England teammate Chloe Kelly through on goal before goal scorer Shaw was able to waltz past two Chelsea defenders and shoot narrowly wide.

Chelsea seemed to finally be woken by controversy as the powerful Mayra Ramirez burst past Alex Greenwood before being brought down by the recovering defender.

As the Chelsea crowd and players called for a penalty, neither the referee nor the lineswoman felt moved to point to the spot.

Replays showed the City captain did not make contact with the ball.

The second half saw Chelsea begin to dominate in typical Chelsea fashion, as the visitors dropped into a low lying defence and conceded the majority of the possession to the reigning champions, content to sit on their narrow lead.

But for all their dominance of the ball, Chelsea failed to create clear cut chances as the game edged towards the final quarter.

Hayes said: “We were guilty of either right decision and poor execution or poor decision and right execution, we didn’t create enough chances.

“Too many times our final ball was not good enough, either into touch or too heavy a pass and the chance goes begging.”

Chelsea did have their chances to level the game, with Cuthbert firing narrowly wide following good work out wide by substitute Johanna Rytting Kaneryd as the clock trickled into time added on.

Chelsea then had their best effort of the game as a cross from the left fell to Jelena Cankovic, who chested down before volleying an effort that was well saved by goalkeeper Khiara Keating.

Keating then showed terrific reflexes to bounce up quickly and block Nusken’s follow up, which seemed destined for the back of the net, before City scrambled the ball away.

But it wasn’t to be, as City secured a priceless victory and ended Chelsea’s incredible three-year winning streak at home.

Whilst Hayes seemed ambivalent to her side losing their unbeaten home record, insisting that medals are what she tends to focus on, City manager Gareth Taylor admitted he was pleased to finally leave Kingsmeadow with a win.

He said: “I’ve never won here and it has really annoyed me in the past.

“You only have to look at the dominance Chelsea have had in Emma’s time in charge to underline that this is a big step.

“They are where we want to be and to come here and win is a sign that we are getting there.”

On the penalty incident, Hayes was disappointed that neither official had been able to see what replays suggested was a clear penalty, but insisted that one poor decision was not where the game was lost.

When asked if she had spoken to the referee about the decision, she added: “What would be the point in confronting her about it? It won’t change anything.

“This is football, sometimes those things go for you and other times they don’t.”

Hayes’ refreshing outlook to referees making human errors was mirrored by Cuthbert, who reflected on her own mistake which ultimately led to the winning goal.

Cuthbert said: “I received the ball in that spot 20 times but the one time I make a mistake, they win the ball and score. That’s football.

“I have to own the mistake and take responsibility for it but ultimately it doesn’t change anything, it is what it is.”

Chelsea are next in action on 3rd March as they travel to Leicester in the WSL after the international break.

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