By Tim Harrison
It isn’t often that football lives up to the hype, but Chelsea Women’s 3-3 draw at Manchester City eclipsed the pre-match ballyhoo.
A sumptuous treat for the 3,542 in the Academy stadium, and the best possible TV advert for the women’s game, it was the perfect aperitif to next weekend’s Conti Cup final, when the Blues face the Gunners in Nottingham.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has still not won a league game at the Academy stadium, but she came a whisker away as the two best teams in the land slugged it out.
Chelsea’s Beth England and City’s Ellen White are strikers at the top of their game, and England gaffer Phil Neville – wrapped up warm against the icy side wind – was suitably impressed.
The Blues’ away point “suits Chelsea better [than us]” said City interim manager Alan Mahon. Hayes concurred. “I’m happy with a point,” she said. It leaves the title race too close to call, with Arsenal very much in the mix.
Ann-Katrin Berger earned a special hug from Hayes at the end, after she stopped Georgia Stanway’s 70th-minute penalty with the scores level at 2-2, the earlier goals being crackers from Ji So-Yun and Stanway on top of efforts from White and the Blues captain Magda Eriksson.
But the best was still to come. On 75 minutes, England unleashed a 27-yard stunner which billowed the net as goalie Ellen Roebuck clawed at air.
Then, a minute later, Lauren Hemp took advantage of a moment’s indecision by defender Maren Mjelde and slotted home the leveller.
Hayes described the end-to-end spectacle, where wind-battered high balls were another factor for both teams to deal with, as more like basketball than the chess game many had predicted.
This was joyous, boisterous, untrammelled, free-flowing fun from start to finish, and if the weekend’s Women’s League Cup final is half as good, it’ll be a treat.
Meanwhile Frank Lampard steadied the ship at Stamford Bridge with an important 2-1 victory against Spurs as pupil faced mentor; Jose Mourinho’s stroppy expression summing up his frustration at squad injuries as well as the fact that – for the first time in his illustrious managerial career – a rival manager has done the double over him in a single league season.
It was another nail in the coffin of VAR in its current set-up as an outrageous stud-stamp on Blues captain Cesar Azpilicueta by Giovani lo Celso went unpunished, despite review, even though replays were wince-inducing. When VAR returns in August, it will have to be in a revised, improved form, or the sport will face a serious revolt.
Lamps takes his team to Bournemouth at the weekend, where the Cherries are as desperate for survival points as the Blues are for fourth-place points.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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