Fran Kirby marks Chelsea recovery with opening goal in Bristol City thrashing

Chelsea’s manager, Emma Hayes, described big scorelines as “teething pains” symptomatic of the growth of women’s football after her team put nine past a crumbling Bristol City.

It followed Arsenal’s 9-1 victory over West Ham on Saturday and Hayes conceded there will be a gap as the game grows but said clubs at the top perhaps receive too much criticism for their investment.

“When people tell me that women should have a ceiling on their wages or a ceiling on opportunities or a ceiling on progression and growth then I’m always going to be at odds with that,” she said. “I don’t believe in salary caps, I don’t believe in restricting the growth of our game. We should celebrate it. We should celebrate the opportunities we’re providing for women at the very top.”

Once Fran Kirby marked her renaissance following last season’s lengthy absence with the debilitating illness pericarditis with her first goal in 16 months, Bristol City collapsed like a house of cards, conceding four times in nine minutes, to put the spotlight on the huge gap between the top of the WSL and the rest.

“It’s not always fair, but I’m hoping what happens at the top with broadcasting eventually will drip down and help build the rest,” Hayes said. “Might there have to be some teething pains to get to that level? Yes. Is there a gap? Yes. But I want to focus on all the great things women’s football and women’s sport does in this country and build on that.”

In the fully Chelsea-owned and newly branded Kingsmeadow, Hayes’s players took no mercy on opponents who have a combined wage bill of less than the £300,000 annual salary of Chelsea’s world-record signing Pernille Harder, who started on the bench.

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Harder is the big signing but perhaps the return of Kirby to full fitness could be the most important Chelsea pre-season development. “Fran’s been unbelievable on and off the pitch,” said Hayes. “I don’t even think it’s about Fran just being back – she’s at another level already.”

A dance into the box down the middle from Ji So-yun led to her being desperately scythed down by Yana Daniels and up stepped the versatile Maren Mjelde, deployed at right-back, to fire in the penalty.

Thumping headers by Melanie Leupolz and centre-back Millie Bright from a corner and free-kick respectively sandwiched a rising long-range effort from the returning Erin Cuthbert.

Pernille Harder scored her first Chelsea goal against Bristol City.
Pernille Harder scored her first Chelsea goal against Bristol City. Photograph: Chelsea FC/Getty Images

A somewhat regrouped Bristol withstood the Chelsea onslaught for 20 minutes after half-time before last season’s WSL player of the year, Beth England, added to the tally from close range in her final action of the game. Again, Tanya Oxtoby’s side wilted in the searing autumn heat.

Niamh Charles scored on her competitive debut after the goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley had denied Harder, but the Dane made no mistake five minutes later as she linked up with Sam Kerr and smashed home to make it 8-0. Kerr then grabbed a loose ball, rounded a defender and scored her second goal of the season.



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