Chelsea 4-2 Manchester United: An outrageous goal from Sam Kerr wrapped up a third consecutive title after the Blues had trailed at half-time
The title was in Chelsea’s hands but Emma Hayes’s side found themselves 2-1 down at half-time after goals from Martha Thomas and Ella Toone stunned Kingsmeadow and put Arsenal to the top of the table.
But Chelsea made an immediate response after the break as Sam Kerr and Guro Reiten, two key players in their title campaign, fired them ahead for the first time – before Kerr added a fourth with what was perhaps the goal of the season from 30 yards.
It was a worthy way to wrap up the title, Chelsea’s fifth in six seasons, after a race with Arsenal that had been neck and neck since the opening day.
Arsenal did their part with a closing 2-0 victory over West Ham and ultimately the title would have been theirs if it had not been for a shock 2-0 defeat to Birmingham City in January, in what was the Gunners’ only loss of the campaign.
It was a result that was illustrative of what has been a wild and unpredictable campaign, and that continued right up until the final day where the title was up for grabs and there were trophies at both Kingsmeadow and at West Ham in case there was one final twist.
Arsenal needed United to do them a huge favour, although Mark Skinner’s side had plenty to play for in their own right. They had held third place in the table for much of the season but had been caught by a surging Manchester City in the race for the final Champions League qualification spot. A victory over Chelsea, coupled with Reading beating City, would see United break into the top three and although the odds were unlikely they gave themselves a fighting chance.
United had their moments early on to unnerve Chelsea – usually through the deliveries of Katie Zelem – and struck twice in the opening half hour to change the complexion of the afternoon. The opener from Thomas, a looping header from a curling Zelem free kick, felt deserved and although it was quickly cancelled out by Erin Cuthbert, Toone’s deflected volley at the back post restored their shock advantage.
The “as it stands” table saw Arsenal as champions on goal difference, as news of United’s lead reached West Ham and Jordan Nobbs and Anna Patten watched the game on a phone on the Arsenal bench. The score from Reading may have filtered through to Kingsmeadow, too, as quickfire goals from Lauren Hemp and Bunny Shaw saw City take a decisive step towards Champions League qualification.
Chelsea had only conceded two goals at home all season before United arrived and had 45 minutes to save their title bid. They needed just 47 seconds to draw level, as Kerr, the newly-crowned player of the year, produced another outstanding moment in her campaign. The striker produced a stunning finish on the volley from the edge of the box, and there would be an even better strike to come.
Hayes had made two changes at the break, with Beth England and Ji So-Yun coming on, and both were involved in the goals as Chelsea took the lead for the first time with their second in five minutes. Ji’s pass through to Pernille Harder split the United defence and when the ball was laid back to Reiten the Norway international produced another vital goal in what has been a run of pivotal contributions.
It meant it now did not matter what result Arsenal got at West Ham, even as Stina Blackstenius put the Gunners in front and then Steph Catley made it two. Arsenal will certainly feel they let the title slip away, though, and after taking four points against Chelsea it is ultimately those dropped points at Birmingham which made the difference.
They were inches away from scoring a late winner in a 0-0 draw with Chelsea in February – in what was billed as a potential title decider – and since then Chelsea have been faultless, signing off their season with nine consecutive victories to finish as champions.
It would be sealed by Kerr, in what was a special moment from the WSL’s player of the season. A clearance from Mary Earps was headed on to Kerr, who took the ball down on her chest and with her back to goal looped a volley over the United goalkeeper from 30 yards. It was her 20th league goal of the season, 30th overall, and it left Chelsea once again standing above the rest.