Chelsea survived a second half fight back from a gutsy Reading to ensure they finished 2022 top of the WSL after a 3-2 victory at a snowy Kingsmeadow on Sunday.
A Fran Kirby goal and a Jelana Cankovic brace had given the Blues a comfortable 3-0 lead at the break, only for Reading to score twice in the space of two second half minutes through Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen and Amalie Eikeland to set up a grandstand finish.
A fairytale equaliser could not be found, but Kelly Chambers’ side had plenty to be proud of despite ultimately leaving west London empty handed.
Reading went toe to toe with Chelsea in a competitive opening quarter of an hour. Gemma Evans popped up with a goal line block to deny Cankovic as the WSL’s third from bottom side held firm, while carrying a threat on the counter attack.
However, the deadlock was broken after 16 minutes following a smart bit of thinking from Cankovic, as she fed Johanna Rytting Kaneryd with a quickly taken free kick. The ball was squared to, Kirby who coolly finished. Reading were left aggrieved as replays showed Rytting Kaneryd to be offside in the build up.
Rytting Kaneryd was again involved as Chelsea doubled their lead just before the half hour mark. Her fizzing effort cannoned off the cross bar, Reading failed to clear and Cankovic reacted quickest to fire home.
The Blues added a third four minutes later, Sophie Ingle and Fran Kirby involved in a flowing team move, Erin Cuthbert providing a cross from the right and Cankovic wrapping up her pretty perfect first half by powering home a header.
With Chelsea leading 3-0 at the break, you feared the floodgates could open and it would be a case of damage limitation for Reading. The opposite happened, and the Royals instead embarked on an unlikely comeback.
Reading pulled one back after an hour, Millie Bright turning the lively Emma Harries’s cross into the path of Troelsgaard Nielsen, whose effort squirmed through the gloves of Ann-Katrin Berger.
Reading really began to make Chelsea sweat as they netted a second just a minute later. Harries was again in the heart of the action, getting the better of Niamh Charles and feeding Eikeland, who poked home. Game on, with half an hour left on the clock.
The dogged Royals threw everything at Chelsea as they searched for what would be a remarkable equaliser, but the Blues managed to see the game out to ensure they sit top of the pile heading into 2023.
GK: Ann-Katrin Berger – 5/10 – Allowed the ball to squirm under her body for Reading’s first, having hardly had a save to make in the opening 45.
RB: Eve Perisset – 7/10 – Linked up really well with Rytting Kaneryd, and the right flank was a constant source of danger for Chelsea.
CB: Millie Bright – 6/10 – Stretched to make an important interception and keep out a Harries cross in the first half. Her distribution and cross field passes were exceptional. Fluffed a clearance which led to Reading’s second.
CB: Magdalena Eriksson – 6/10 – Back in a more natural centre back role following a spell at left back. Saw the ball played in behind herself and Charles for Reading’s first, struggling to cope with the pace of Harries.
LB: Niamh Charles – 6/10 – A tireless performance – up and down the left flank, smart and efficient in possession. Had a tough time defensively in the second half, losing out to Harries in the build up to Reading’s second.
CM: Sophie Ingle – 7/10 – Won the ball back in the build up to Chelsea’s second and third goal, springing the counter attack for the third.
CM: Erin Cuthbert – 7/10 – Provided the pinpoint cross for Chelsea’s third goal after combining well with Kirby. Sliced an effort from range narrowly wide late in the first half.
CM: Jelena Cankovic – 8/10 – Enjoyed a fabulous first half performance, taking the quickly taken free kick for her side’s first, and on the scoresheet with a low drive and bullet header. Oozed confidence throughout – not a bad first WSL start.
RW: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd – 8/10 – Had a hand in Chelsea’s first and second goal, picking out Kirby and cracking the post with a fizzing drive.
ST: Bethany England – 6/10 – Put in a big shift up top, but unable to get on the scoresheet, being denied by an Evans block in the first half. Replaced with 20 minutes remaining.
LW: Fran Kirby – 8/10 – Opened the scoring against her former club with a smart finish, involved in the third after linking up with Cuthbert.
SUB: Jess Carter (67′ for Charles) – 6/10
SUB: Sam Kerr (70′ for England) – 6/10
SUB: Jessie Fleming (70′ for Cankovic) – 6/10
SUB: Guro Reiten (81′ for Rytting Kaneryd) – 6/10
GK: Jackie Burns – 6/10 – Claimed a couple of potentially dangerous crosses, and couldn’t do a great deal about any of Chelsea’s goals.
RB: Faye Bryson – 5/10 – Had a bit of a tough time of it against the relentless Kirby and Charles.
CB: Deanne Cooper – 6/10 – Made a heroic diving block to keep out a second half Cuthbert effort. A full blooded performance against her former club.
CB: Gemma Evans – 6/10 – In the thick of the action: made a superb goal line block to keep out Cankovic in the early exchanges, but failed to clear her lines for Chelsea’s second, before making another brave block to deny England.
LB: Lily Woodham – 6/10 – Struggled to cope with Chelsea’s dangerous right flank of Perisset and Rytting Kaneryd at times in the first half, but dug in and was considerably more resolute in the second as Reading really frustrated the Blues.
DM: Justine Vanhaevermaet – 7/10 – Saw a sweetly struck effort fly narrowly over in the first half. Broke up play effectively.
CM: Tia Primmer – 5/10 – Failed to clear her lines in the build up to Chelsea’s second. A tenacious performance against Chelsea’s dynamic midfield three. Forced off with injury before the hour mark.
CM: Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen – 7/10 – Netted her side’s first, reacting quickest to the loose ball and seeing her effort squirm under Berger.
CM: Amalie Eikeland – 7/10 – Timed her run to perfection to linger on the edge of the box and poke home her side’s second. A real source of danger throughout, driving her team forward.
ST: Lauren Wade – 6/10 – A relentless shift up front as Reading’s front two asked plenty of questions of the Chelsea backline. Replaced with 15 minutes remaining.
ST: Emma Harries – 8/10 – Carried a threat on the break and instrumental in Reading’s first and second goal with a burst down the right flank and low delivery.
SUB: Rachel Rowe (57′ for Primmer) – 7/10
SUB: Emma Mukandi (67′ for Bryson) – 6/10
SUB: Charlie Wellings (75′ for Wade) – 6/10
Player of the match: Jelena Cankovic (Chelsea)
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