football

Fran Kirby double helps Chelsea crush Bristol City to extend WSL lead


Two goals from Fran Kirby helped Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the Women’s Super League to five points with a 5-0 defeat of Bristol City at a sodden Twerton Park.

It speaks to the confidence coursing through Kirby’s veins that the first goal came off the head of the 5ft 2in forward. The 27-year-old got there first at the near post to deftly flick on Maren Mjelde’s corner.

The return of Kirby after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with pericarditis has been impressive but her resurgence, playing some of the best football of her career has been remarkable.

For Bristol City, bottom of league, there could perhaps be a slither of solace in the fact they kept the deficit at one goal for slightly longer than they managed in the away fixture. In September’s 9-0 drubbing, the Vixens were five down by the 40th minute.

“We showed a little bit too much respect, we were too deep. We could have played [the first half] in our own half,” conceded Matt Beard, who is in temporary charge of Bristol while Tanya Oxtoby is on maternity leave.

With the relentless pressure and slick interplay between the Australian forward Sam Kerr, Kirby, the European player of the year Pernille Harder and the England striker Beth England – and the influential playmaker Ji So-yun pulling the strings behind them – it was inevitable that Chelsea would crush any hopes of a kind scoreline and increase their lead. In the 37th minute Harder lashed a vicious strike past goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley and three minutes later Kirby added the third – for her 11th league goal of the season, taking her to within one of the current WSL top scorer, Vivianne Miedema.

Despite the rain lashing down and a torn-up pitch Chelsea continued to weave through the dejected Bristol lines with ease. Kerr headed home, to join Kirby on 11 WSL goals, Chelsea’s fourth and the fifth came when Baggaley saved well from England but the ball rebounded off the forward and was bundled over the muddy line.

“We just need to collectively tighten up on the passing decisions,” Beard said. “At times she [Baggaley] put us under pressure when she didn’t necessarily need to, but for the most part I thought she was outstanding.”

Having endured a shock 2-1 defeat against Brighton a week ago, a first defeat of the season which would dent the air of invincibility around Emma Hayes’s side, Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Arsenal and the light work made of Bristol have helped restore their swagger.

“I shared a video [with the team] of three-time Michelin star winning chef Clare Smyth, where she talks about the unrivalled service you need in the kitchen and the demands that go with it,” said Chelsea their manager, Hayes. “I asked them to reflect on the fact that it’s not about the amount of mistakes you make in the kitchen, it’s about how you handle them.

“That’s what I have in the dressing room. I have a group of players that handle setbacks. That’s all I’ve asked for and all I’ve cultivated.

“There’s no secret to [building] it. It’s an environment where consistency matters and if you behave a certain way every day the chances of producing a performance stays high.”

Elsewhere, a header from the Danish forward Nicoline Sørensen earned Everton a point at Reading after Rachel Rowe had put the home team ahead. The 1-1 draw means Reading extend their unbeaten run to four games, with three draws sandwiching an impressive 2-0 defeat of Manchester United last Sunday, but they remain in sixth place on 19 points, below Everton on goal difference.



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