Arsenal Ladies 3 Chelsea Ladies 1
With a second Women`s Super League season having now just kicked into gear, the promotion drive has also begun to kick in. Last night, Arsenal decided to throw open the doors of their plush Ashburton Grove stadium for a WSL league fixture with Chelsea Ladies. Tickets were sold at the same prices charged at the Ladies Borehamwood home. £5 adults, £2.50 concessions. The club had gone to big lengths to advertise the event, making 9,000 lower tier seats available. The Ladies usually draw around 300 in Hertfordshire, so it was a big effort from everybody to get the game staged and well attended at Arsenal`s home.
The final attendance proved to be a record for the WSL of 5,052- more than double the previous record. As part of the "promotion drive" as it were, I was delighted to have been given the chance to have a chat with centre half and Arsenal veteran of 14 years Ciara Grant . In the build up Ciara had told me Gemma Davison was the fastest player she`d ever seen. The 5,000 crowd would be left in no doubt that that was the truth come the third goal. Ciara had spoken about her desire to see Arsenal put on a good show and the Ladies were making good on their promise early on.
The livewire Jordan Nobbs was hauled down on the edge of the box by Claire Rafferty- who was replaced at half time such was the hard time she had getting to grips with the Durham lass. Yankey whipped the free kick narrowly wide from the corner of the area. Arsenal should have had the lead on eight minutes when Carly Telford parried Danielle Carter`s shot, Jordan Nobbs tigerishly pounded on the rebound, tucking it into the net, but the referee incorrectly blew for a foul. Telford took a blow to the ribs from Nobbs, but the ball was long into the net by the time contact was made. It was a poor decision. One of many on the night.
The referee also erred when Fahey was tripped in the box by Fay; the official had an untroubled view but gave nothing. Then again, the officials also couldn`t count so it was scarcely a surprise. Telford and Houghton were both treated for injuries in the first half for in excess of two minutes, yet only 1 minute stoppage time was signalled at the end of the half. Despite her pain, Telford worked single handedly to keep Arsenal at bay. Alex Scott`s pinpoint cross found the diving header of Katy Chapman, which Telford palmed away. Carter couldn`t dig the rebound out of her feet and failed to get the necessary purchase on her follow up, leaving Telford with a comfortable second save.
Steph Houghton played a more disciplined defensive midfield role with Ludlow suffering an injury in the warm up. But she nearly scored when she followed Scott`s searching cross all the way to the back post, but could only divert it over as the ball bounced on connection. After a lively start had fetched them no reward, Arsenal dropped off somewhat and the second half of the first half petered out into something of a faceless sludge. Chelsea keeper Telford had to be replaced at half time due to her injury, whilst Sophie Perry replaced Lafferty at left back, who had been given a torrid time by Jordan Nobbs and Alex Scott.
In the opening minutes of the half, Arsenal retuned to their mojo and scored the opening goal. Kim Little, the pocked sized yet deceptively powerful midfielder simply marauded through two challenges and into the Chelsea area, before deftly clipping the ball over Chelsea`s substitute goalkeeper Sarah Quantrill. Arsenal relaxed again but found another Chelsea keeper in defiant form. Quantrill tipped Houghton`s drive from range over the top. But Arsenal were soon two goals ahead. Little wriggled into space on the left hand side of the area; put in a precision cross which captain for the night Katy Chapman rose to head into the top corner.
Arsenal looked to be in cruise control. The midfield fluidity is such that Nobbs swapped from right to left midfield for the second half and when Dani Carter had to go off after a nasty rake down the achilles (which the referee didn`t think was a foul for reasons best known to his remedial brain), Kim Little moved into the pivot 'false 9` striker role, which Gemma Davison playing from the right. However, Chelsea did get themselves back into the game with a quite wonderful goal. Perry found Kate Longhurst in the area, who curled a quite delicious curling shot from the corner of the box which arced over the reach of Emma Byrne and into the top corner with nine minutes remaining.
Though Chelsea were briefly buoyed by the lifeline, it simply served to make Arsenal angry. First Kim Little`s piledriver from range was tipped over by Quantrill. Then substitute Jennifer Beattie controlled Nahim Fahey`s diagonal ball and turned in the area, only to find Quantrill sprawling at her feet with the save. Even when Quantrill wasn`t in resistant mode, it was the woodwork preventing Arsenal from reassembling their two goal cushion, with Gemma Davison`s shot from the edge of the area smashing the face of the crossbar. But the Gunners did wrap the result up in stoppage time (which was this time given at 4 minutes, despite there being one stoppage of less than 2 minutes to treat Danielle Carter, who had to go off injured for an off the ball challenge that apparently wasn`t a foul).
Gemma Davison was central to the goal and made good on Grant`s impression that she`s the quickest player Ciara had ever worked with. Fahey played a hopeful ball down the left flank. It looked to comfortably Fay`s ball, but Davison chased Fay down from five yards back and beat her to the ball. She pulled back from the by line. The pass evaded Yankey, but serendipitously fell to Little; who took a touch before smashing into the top corner. It put a more fitting sheen on the scoreline given the superiority the home side enjoyed and also ensured that the record 5,000 crowd got another pearler for their change. I hope this showcase will attract more people to Borehamwood, particularly over the summer months. Arsenal now face the same opposition in the F.A. Cup semi final on Sunday at Griffin Park. Admission is £3 adults and £1.50 concessions. LD.
ARSENAL: 1.BYRNE, 22.SCOTT, 5.FLAHERTY, 7.GRANT, 19.FAHEY, 2.HOUGHTON (14.Beattie `72), 17.CHAPMAN©, 16.LITTLE, 8.NOBBS, 11.YANKEY, 15.CARTER (12.Davison `60), Unused: 3.Tracy, 25.Ladd, 26.Harris.
CHELSEA: 1.TELFORD (13.Quantrill H/T), 2.FAY, 5.BONNER, 6.COOMBS, 14.WILLIAMS, 11.BLEAZARD, 8.BUET, 15.SUSI, 11.RAFFERTY (3.Perry H/T), 9.LAPPIN (16.Longhurst `54), 10.LANDER. Unused: 4.Spence, 7.Hincks, 24.Gwilliam.