Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd (Kerr 23′)
KINGSMEADOW — Manchester United Women are not yet five years old, yet they have made rapid progress.
However, the Red Devils have still never registered a win against Chelsea. Until they do so, a first trophy is likely to elude them.
This was the ninth meeting between the pair and Sam Kerr’s 23rd-minute goal ensured this would be Chelsea’s eighth win, with the other ending in a draw.
This victory lifted Emma Hayes’ Blues above United and to the Women’s Super League (WSL) summit. Two points clear with a game in hand, few would bet against the capital club retaining their crown.
For Skinner, the match, and thus the title, turned on two refereeing decisions, both just after the half-hour mark. “We should have had two penalties,” he said. “Two penalties in a game like this are massive.”
Yet Skinner added that United “should always look at ourselves first” and admitted his side should have been “more ruthless” in attack and gave away a sloppy goal in defence.
Meanwhile Hayes was more interested in paying tribute to her squad after the bug that had confined her to bed for the last two days spread to the team, ruling out Guro Reiten. With Erin Cuthbert (hamstring) also joining long-term absentees Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby, the home team were short of creativity.
But any side with Kerr carries a threat. As the Australian’s brace turned this fixture last season, clinching a third successive title, United were well aware of her lethality, but their high line allowed her a series of chances.
Kerr went clear in the opening quarter of the match three times. On the first occasion she seized on Millie Turner’s error, but the shot was poor and Mary Earps saved. On the second she held off Maya Le Tissier and while the shot was good Earps saved with her feet.
But you can’t keep giving Kerr chances and remain unscathed. Lauren James was given space to pick a pass and she selected a beauty, curling a long ball from just inside her own half onto Kerr’s chest as she burst between United’s centre-halves. The striker’s second touch was a perfectly judged chip and this time Earps was beaten.
“We switched off,” lamented Skinner. “One long ball and we should be able to deal with it.”
United had offered little at that stage, but now they pushed on. Either side of Alessia Russo testing Ann-Katrin Berger with a 34th-minute shot-on-the-turn came the penalty claims.
Chelsea centre-half Kadeisha Buchanan appeared to clip Nikita Parris, then Jess Carter jumped into Ona Batlle. They were ‘stonewall’ penalties according to Skinner, but in both cases, it was not clear that a VAR would have ruled referee Cheryl Foster to have made ‘a clear and obvious error’.
What the BBC2 expert pundits would have felt remains an unknown, as the channel’s match coverage fell victim to the ongoing dispute over Gary Lineker’s tweet with no pundits or presenters and a solo world feed commentator.
The Red Devils were backed by a full away section, still rare in the women’s game, in an otherwise disappointing crowd of 3,277 and dominated possession in the second period. But chances were elusive, with Chelsea defending so effectively Skinner was forced to withdraw two of his flair players, Ella Toone and Leah Galton, and play more directly. This, though, was no more successful.
Instead it was Chelsea who looked more likely to score, with Melanie Leupolz volleying over and Kerr, though largely isolated, twice going close.
At the final whistle, as Chelsea celebrated, the public address played Madness’s “One Step Beyond”, which is where Chelsea remain above United and the rest of the WSL.