Nick Cushing’s women earned a vital point at the Academy Stadium.
Given just one point separates the blue of Manchester and the blue of South West London at the pinnacle of the Women’s Super League table, this meeting at the Academy Stadium was always going to have a massive impact on where the title would end up come the conclusion of the season.
City came into the match in good form having won four of the last six but their previous outing saw them slip to a 2-0 defeat away at Birmingham City. Chelsea, meanwhile, were also enjoying a good run having won four of the previous five and still unbeaten in the league this season.
All of this led to a title showdown between the two real challengers for the crown. City, having won the league last season, needed to lay a marker down and prevent Chelsea from extending their lead at the top while the London side were looking to grasp one hand on the title.
Within six minutes, the league leaders landed the first punch. Millie Bright rifled a shot from close range into the top left corner leaving Ellie Roebuck with no chance of stopping it. The goal came as City struggled to effectively clear a Chelsea corner and Bright was in the right place at the right time to put her side ahead.
City were struggling to get any real hold on the game and the next goal was looking likely to go to the visitors. Abbie McManus and Esme Morgan both prevented chances but in the 24th minute, the game had its second goal.
Crystal Dunn, in what was her last appearance for Chelsea before moving to North Carolina Courage, rolled the ball back into the path of Ji So-Yun who made no mistake and placed the ball into the bottom corner. It doubled the advantage of the visitors and gave Nick Cushing and his players a long way back if they were going to salvage anything.
The half time whistle blew on a cold Manchester Saturday morning with the blue of London firmly in control.
Chelsea continued the second half in much the same manner as they had throughout the first. They pressed forward, not allowing City time on the ball and looked to increase their lead even further. Ramona Bachmann had a chance saved by Roebuck while So-Yun looked to double her personal tally of the game.
However, with 49 minutes on the clock, the door opened on a possible City comeback. A pinpoint cross from Demi Stokes arrived squarely on the head of Nikita Parris who sent it goal-bound. It set the score at 2-1 and with over half an hour left to play, there was definitely time for more.
Chelsea also had chances to score more goals but were not playing with the same clinical edge that they had in the first half. Parris then missed a glorious opportunity to equalise having shot wide when it seemed harder to miss.
As the clock creeped towards the final minute, City got their equaliser. Substitute Georgia Stanway scored the goal of the game with a powerful edge-of-the-area shot that rose into the postage stamp of the goal. Unstoppable regardless of where the keeper stood and it sealed the unlikely comeback.
Stanway said after the game “It feels like we’ve won the game, although it was only a draw. [The comeback] shows what we’re capable of and that the bench is just as important as the starting team. Nick can put anyone on and they’ll do a job. We showed we have the character to come back from 2-0 down. We’ve got the endeavour and we’ll work hard to get to where we want to be.”
The game finished at 1-1 and with honours even but given the circumstances of the match, it is no surprise it felt more like a win to the City players. The result means City stay one point behind Chelsea going into the international break. City players have now departed to be with their national teams and will return to club action on the 14th of March in a Continental Cup tie against Arsenal.