Brighton 0-3 Chelsea: James and Kirby send the Blues six points clear

Returning to league action after a mid-week Champions League victory over Real Madrid, WSL league leaders Chelsea travelled to the south coast on Saturday evening to take on Brighton. Three second-half goals saw the Blues go six points clear a the top of the Women’s Super League table.

BHA: Baggaley; Kullberg, Bergsvand, Thorisdottir, Pattinson; Losada, Olme, Pinto; Bremer, Terland, Sarri

CHE: Hampton; Perisset, Carter, Bjorn, Charles; Cuthbert, Leupolz; Kaneryd, Kirby, Reiten; James

Emma Hayes made three changes to the side that beat Real Madrid to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Women’s Champions League mid-week with Lauren James, Eve Perisset and Nathalie Bjorn returning to the starting XI, and new signing, Mayra Ramirez starting on the bench. Brighton made five changes to the side that were victorious over Charlton Athletic in the Women’s League Cup in mid-week with Sophie Baggaley returning as she was set to make her 100th league appearance.

It was a positive start to the game for the hosts who saw plenty of the ball and managed to prevent the visitors from creating any threatening chances in what was an evenly-contested opening ten minutes. Fran Kirby made a run in behind the Brighton defence at six minutes but Baggaley read the danger well and was quick off her line to collect with Jess Carter intercepting the pass from Bremer to Pinto at the other end.

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The first clear-cut chance of the game was created by Veatriki Sarri in the tenth minute as she made her way down the right flank before passing the ball behind to Poppy Pattinson who crossed it into the box but couldn’t find Elisabeth Terland to head it home.

In the 14th minute, Guro Reiten hit the woodwork with an incredible shot towards goal from inside the Brighton area – Baggaley just got her fingertips to it to direct it onto the crossbar. Chelsea were growing into the game as the 15-minute mark neared, dominating possession and pushing Brighton back into their own half, but another significant chance didn’t come until the 26th minute when Fran Kirby cut the ball back towards Guro Reiten who was waiting in the middle of the box, her shot going just wide of the far post in what was a worrying moment for the Seagulls.

Lauren James drilled the ball into the middle after cutting through on the right-hand side at 27-minutes, but Baggaley was able to make a comfortable catch to deny her from opening the scoring. In the 32nd minute, it was James again on the right sending a cross into the box that Brighton were able to clear for a corner. Whilst the corner was initially cleared, the ball was well-recycled by the visitors who managed to get the ball to Niamh Charles, her header at the back post missing the target.

As Chelsea continued to search for the opener at Broadfield Stadium, Guro Reiten sent a low drive into the box to Fran Kirby, but her attempt from the edge of the six-yard area was fired over. In the 44th minute, Reiten tried to trouble Brighton’s defence again with a ball cut back to James on the edge of the area, but Losada intercepted as the hosts continued to defend well and handle the pressure from the Blues.

On the 45-minute mark, Brighton had their first shot on target, but it was an easy save for Hannah Hampton despite Veatriki Sarri’s shot taking a deflection off Erin Cuthbert.

It was a goalless first period with an incredible defensive display from the hosts who made a total of eight interceptions in the opening 45-minutes, but there was a big second half to come as the Blues had only failed to score in one of their last 21 league away games.

Three minutes was all it took for the scoring to be opened. Niamh Charles sent a left-footed cross into the area with the WSL top scorer, Lauren James, instinctively shooting with such power and speed that Baggaley had no chance at stopping it.

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Just six minutes into the half and Chelsea had struck twice – Fran Kirby scored her second WSL goal of the season with a header that guided the ball into the net, past Sophie Baggaley. It was a well-worked corner from the Blues who had kept the ball in a dangerous area: Niamh Charles to Melanie Leupolz, to Fran Kirby, her striker’s instinct extending the visitors’ lead to two whilst Brighton conceded yet another set-piece goal.

Wanting to ignite a fast comeback, Brighton were quickly on the attack as Pauline Bremer struck from a tight angle, her effort hitting the post, but the Seagulls were no match for the Blues who were recycling the ball again in the 59th minute with Niamh Charles sending a cross into the box that was headed on into a dangerous area by Poppy Pattinson and rifled into the net by Lauren James – she netted her 50th senior goal in club football as she registered her ninth goal in her last five WSL appearances.

Applying the pressure to the Seagulls, Lauren James slid the ball through to Guro Reiten at 62-minutes but the offside flag was raised. On the attack again at 65-minutes, Erin Cuthbert tried her luck but the power of the shot sent it over the crossbar.

Club record signing Mayra Ramirez came on for her Chelsea debut in the 67th minute, replacing Lauren James, and went straight into the number nine position. She had the ball behind the defence of the hosts at 73-minutes but the offside flag was raised.

Brighton’s first shot in over half an hour came in the 78th minute when Lee Geum-min cut the ball back to Elisabeth Terland whose effort went over Hampton’s goal without worrying the Chelsea keeper.

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The Blues continued to attack as the game entered the final ten minutes with Fran Kirby slotting through Guro Reiten who found herself in loads of space, but fired straight at the Brighton keeper.

In the 89th minute, Lily Dent replaced Elisbeth Terland for Brighton making her senior debut from the bench, but it was too late for the 17-year-old to make an impact with the final whistle being blown after seven minutes of additional time as Chelsea claimed the three points to go six points clear at the top of the table. It was another clean sheet for Hannah Hampton and Chelsea’s fifth of the their 12 games this season – the most of any team in the WSL this season.