Chelsea 1 Manchester City 3
Manchester City fought back to win their fourth Women’s Continental Tires League Cup as Caroline Weir’s brilliant double and yet another Ellen White goal saw them end Chelsea’s stranglehold on the major silverware in an engaging final, denying their rivals a third straight League Cup.
White’s team’s spirited second-half comeback mirrored the way they have turned around their season since the midway point, having endured a disastrous injury list early in the autumn that blew that league title chances, before reviving their campaign superbly with a resurgent run in the New Year that has propelled them back into contention for Champions League qualification, seen them reach the FA Cup quarter-finals and now claim the eighth major trophy in their history.
And in-form playmaker Weir, whose wonder strike settled February’s league Manchester derby and who also scored in their comeback win away at Manchester United in the FA Cup last weekend, was the star of the show once again, in an at-times end- to-end final that greatly entertained a new competition-record crowd of 8,004.
In 2021’s extremely one-sided final, Chelsea had breezed to a 4-0 half-time lead as they eventually went on to thrash Bristol City 6-0 at Watford’s Vicarage Road, but this season’s showdown was always destined to be a much tighter affair , with two of the English women’s game’s modern era’s most dominant sides going head-to-head. Between them Chelsea and Manchester City had won 17 of the past 21 major domestic honors available since 2014, yet remarkably this was their first meeting in a cup final.
Emma Hayes’ team won a treble of major trophies last season and had therefore claimed every piece of major domestic silverware available since Manchester City had won the FA Cup in November 2020. Hayes’ team’s chances of maintaining their streak were dealt a blow before kick- off, with Fran Kirby understood to have missed out through illness and Canada star Jessie Fleming being ruled out by Covid-19, while Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton continues to be sidelined by an achilles injury, yet there were still international superstars a plenty on show at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Despite officially being a sellout, at the neutral home of AFC Wimbledon, there were a smattering of empty seats but nonetheless the atmosphere remained relatively raucous and there was warm applause around the ground when both sides came together to show their support the people of Ukraine before kick-off, laying down blue and yellow wreaths and reminding us all that football is only a game.
The topic of Russia invasion of Ukraine and this week’s announcement that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich is to sell Chelsea totally dominated Hayes’ pre-match press conference but the Londoner, in her 10th season in charge, sought to reassure supporters that the club’s women’s team would undoubtedly remain a “strong force” in the game whoever takes over the club, stressing that their success was not about one man.
Her team quickly set about showing why they’ve be so prosperous on the pitch and had the better of the play early on but Gareth Taylor’s team sparked into life on 25 minutes and should have scored when Lauren Hemp met her England team-mate Georgia Stanway’s low cross to the far post but somehow hit the base of the post instead of tapping into a relatively unguarded net.
That miss was soon punished by Australia’s Kerr, who took full advantage of a mistake at the back from Manchester City to open the scoring. England keeper Ellie Roebuck and her fellow Lioness Demi Stokes both attempted to reach Guro Reiten’s cross in the air but got in each other’s way, with Roebuck fumbling the ball downwards for Kerr to fire in low on the turn. It was the sort of moment England will be desperate to not see repeated in this summer’s European Championships, where Roebuck and Stokes are both in strong contention to start the majority of England’s games.