Sam Kerr’s stunner sends Chelsea above Manchester United to top the WSL | Women’s Super League
The last time Chelsea hosted Manchester United in the league, Sam Kerr was the star, scoring two stunning goals as Chelsea came from behind twice to earn a 4-2 win on the final day of last season and take the WSL title ahead of Arsenal.
For this meeting at Kingsmeadow the stage was set: United, the league leaders, in with a chance of moving three points clear of Chelsea; and Chelsea ready to take the pretenders down a peg or two and leapfrog them; and the match was live on BBC Two.
The latter scenario played out and Kerr delivered once more, and once more in style, taking down Lauren James’s beautifully delivered long ball and lifting it over Mary Earps before wheeling away to celebrate with James in the first half of the 1-0 win that put Chelsea three points clear of United.
What was missing, though, for those watching at home – or for anyone wanting to relive the moment later – was the build-up, half-time analysis and passionate commentary that becomes a part of the game’s narrative.
With BBC pundits and commentators joining their colleagues in stepping back from sports programmes after Gary Lineker was penalised for voicing his opinions on the government’s immigration policy, coverage of the showpiece fixture was greatly diminished. Nigel Adderley’s commentary for international broadcast was used on the BBC and at half-time the broadcaster aired highlights of last weekend’s League Cup final.
This had been billed as United’s moment. Instead it showed how far they still have to go to catch Chelsea, their attack as muted by the Blues’ defence as the coverage was muted by the unofficial action of BBC pundits.
Emma Hayes said that “the difference for me is the squad game”. But Marc Skinner fumed at two penalty shouts which were waved away within minutes of each other in the first half.
“It helps if you get the two decisions that should go for you,” he said. “They’re two big decisions. We’ve come here and we’ve had 63% possession, we’ve dominated the ball, we’ve moved Chelsea into only being able to counterattack really, and yet we’ve come away having got into the box twice and they’re two penalties.
“Two penalties in a game like this are massive … Chelsea get a goal that’s offside the other day, so these are decisions that will make and break where you finish in the table. And we say ‘it balances out’, well, I’m hopeful that we see it.”
The Chelsea machine rarely provides a whiff of an opening. However, with such upheaval among their ranks – with four changes made and Erin Cuthbert and Guro Reiten unavailable, and with the team having endured a bruising cup defeat against Arsenal last Sunday – United arrived at Kingsmeadow with a real chance of causing an upset.
Skinner’s side started the game brighter and dominated possession, but they had few meaningful chances to show for it with Chelsea ready to weather that storm. Instead, Kerr’s seventh league goal in six games against United was coming and it was worth the wait. James sent a sublime high ball from just inside her own half and the Australian forward chested it down before calmly lobbing Mary Earps.
Hayes pointed to the number of injuries her side has, when asked about the effectiveness of Kerr. “Sometimes I feel like other teams get a hall pass for injured players, we’ve been without Fran [Kirby] and Pernille for almost the entirety of the season, this team deserves huge credit as a whole. Not just Sam, we’ve kept a clean sheet today after a difficult and underwhelming performance against Arsenal last weekend.”
United could feel aggrieved with the strong penalty shouts that were waved away by referee Cheryl Foster, Kadeisha Buchanan tangling with Nikita Parris for the first and Jess Carter flying late into Ona Batlle as she leapt to head the ball.
“They’re stonewall when I watch them both,” Skinner said. “Especially the aerial challenge, if it happens, it’s given as a foul. We have to invest in the officials, we have to invest in the surrounding technology that can help. We’ve come to the champions’ home ground and put our stamp on it, you need those things to go for you.”