Ladies report: Chelsea 2 Manchester City 0

Chelsea Ladies are going to Wembley again! A superb brace by Fran Kirby knocked out the holders in an FA Cup semi-final full of atmosphere on Sunday afternoon at Kingsmeadow.

It was down to a fantastic team performance that the Blues booked our place in the prestigious final for the third time in four years, with Kirby tormenting the Man City backline and scoring a goal in each half as Chelsea came out on top in this clash of the WSL1’s top two sides.

The Blues of London and Manchester met for the fourth time in 2018 and, as in the previous three matches, it was an exciting and fiercely-contested encounter, with Kirby’s sixth and seventh goals in six matches making the difference for the Blues.

Emma Hayes, who had already seen off Man City in FA Cup semi-finals twice while in charge of the Blues, brought our skipper Katie Chapman and cup specialist Erin Cuthbert into the starting XI as she tried to make it third time lucky again at the expense of our familiar foes.

These were the only changes to the line-up which came away with a 1-1 draw against Arsenal at Boreham Wood before the start of a hectic international window. Ramona Bachmann was a late withdrawal from the squad through illness, while Ji So-yun is still out in Jordan helping her South Korea side qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

Nick Cushing also made a couple of adjustments to his side following their shock 2-0 defeat at home to Reading at the start of the month, introducing Nancy Nadim in place of Jane Ross, with Isobel Christiansen replacing her injured England colleague Melissa Lawley.

Hannah Blundell (pictured below), providing the width for Chelsea along with Jonna Andersson in our now-typical 3-4-1-2 system, received a commemorative shirt before kick-off in honour of her reaching 100 appearances for the Blues, a remarkable feat in her five seasons at the club.

It was special day too for Cuthbert, who earned the opportunity to lead the line in her first FA Cup semi-final, having bagged a hat-trick against London Bees in the fourth round and a brace against Doncaster Rovers Belles in the last 16. 

The Glaswegian was just one of many goalscoring gems on show at Kingsmeadow as Man City learned the hard way inside five minutes when Kirby managed to beat England captain Steph Houghton and took full advantage. Latching onto a long ball from Magda Eriksson, there never any chance the Lionesses' attacker would miss as she raced towards goal at lightning pace, her mind firmly fixed on firing in her 21st goal of the campaign.

After the frenetic start to the match, Chelsea slowed it down a little and kept the ball well. The visitors were yet to cause us a serious scare when we nearly scored again in the 17th minute from a lovely corner into Maren Mjelde, whose half-volley had to be cleared off the line.

Man City strived to impose themselves on the cup tie and became increasingly eager to get forward. Nikita Parris found herself free in the penalty area on multiple occasions, but leaving Hedvig Lindahl untroubled besides one well-made save midway through the first half.

This allowed Chelsea to activate our most dangerous attacking weapon: the counter-attack. Blundell and Andersson did a superb job at stretching Man City, while Drew Spence acted as a conduit into the front two. The Blues had a second major opening on the half-hour mark when Spence slipped the ball into Kirby but she could only drag her shot across goal.

After the break, the Blues proved to be as hard-working in defence as we were slick higher up the pitch. Our pressing and coordination kept the Citizens trapped in midfield, even though they grew into the game. There was some distinctive tough tackling from Spence, as we restricted our rivals to long-range efforts, including a 30-yard strike by Jill Scott which whizzed over the bar.

The tide briefly seemed to turn in the visitors’ favour thanks to some incessant pressure. With Chelsea 25 minutes away from Wembley, Gilly Flaherty had to come on for Maria Thorisdottir after the defender turned over her ankle, and Lindahl made a vital save from Georgia Stanway. The Blues were effectively playing with a back four with everybody involved inside our own half. Everybody, that is, apart from our prolific goalscorer Kirby.

Kirby could be found lurking on the halfway line in case of a promising clearance, and our fantastic No.14 got exactly what she was looking for when she forced another defensive error from the Citizens. Poised to pounce, the PFA Player of the Year nominee was the epitome of cool when she rapidly peeled away from the defence to slide the ball past the goalkeeper and seal a well-deserved spot in the final.

There was little sign of a Man City fightback after Chelsea doubled our lead and Chapman almost got her name on the scoresheet, winning a header and guiding it goalwards into the penalty area.

The blue flag will be flying high from Kingsmeadow to Wembley for the Women’s FA Cup Final on Saturday 5 May, with kick-off scheduled for 5.30pm. It will be a London derby and a repeat of the 2016 showpiece after the other semi-final saw 14-time winners Arsenal beat Everton 2-1 earlier in the day.

In the meantime, the big games keep on coming for Hayes’s treble-chasers, starting with a crucial WSL1 match away to the Toffees on Wednesday evening (KO 7pm) as we attempt to maintain our prime position in the league. Then we are back at Kingsmeadow on Sunday night for the first leg of our Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg (KO 6.05pm).

Chelsea (3-4-1-2): Lindahl; Bright, Mjelde, Eriksson; Blundell, Chapman (c), Thorisdottir (Flaherty 65), Andersson; Spence; Kirby (Davison 81), Cuthbert (Aluko 77)
Unused sub Spencer
Scorer Kirby 5, 74

Manchester City (4-3-3): Roebuck, McManus, Houghton (c), Beattie, Stokes, Walsh, Scott, Christiansen, Stanway, Parris, Nadim (Emslie 60)
Unused subs Bardsley, Jans, Ross, Middag

Crowd 3,048 

By Danny Wittenberg