Harder’s spot kick wins it for out of sorts Chelsea - just three points from the title now
By Paul Lagan at St Andrew‘s Stadium
Birmingham City 0 v Chelsea 1
Pernille Harder scored the solitary goal that propelled Chelsea to within three points of retaining their WSL title.
Make no mistake, Chelsea were lucky to escape St Andrew’s with the three.
Birmingham, fighting for their lives at the foot of the table, were aggressive, and well drilled.
Who knows where they would be if they had more than the two games left to play with.
As it stands a defeat at Manchester City on Wednesday and they will be relegated.
For Chelsea, a win at home to Manchester United on Sunday and they will be champions again.
In the pouring rain of the Midlands, Chelsea were out of sorts. Having come through three gruelling matches in eight days. The Londoners were tired, they were not in control of the ball, there were too few connections across the pitch between players.
But they got the job done - just.
It took a 71 minute spot kick to win the game. Up until then Birmingham were in the game, not to win it, but not to lose it.
Harder should have scored on three minutes, when a quick free kick by Millie Bright found the striker free in the Birmingham City area. But the Denmark forward whipped a low ball wide of goal.
This was quickly followed by a Sam Kerr left-footed blaster from he edge of the area that smashed off Emily Ramsey’s crossbar and was, luckily for the home side cleared.
The west Londoners were the dominant forces, reducing Birmingham to defending their third and then hoping for a long ball to counter-attack with.
This lead to an element of frustration from Chelsea, an example being Bright trying a speculative 30-yarder on 19 minutes that he not prospect of trifling Brum’s goal.
Birmingham got a corner on 25 minutes.
On the rare occasions Birmingham got into the Chelsea six-yard box, there were three very quick corners in succession, the Chelsea rearguard looked decidedly shaky.
Ann-Katrin Berger twice sustained minor injuries in the congested area clearing the ball.
As expected, Chelsea head coach made a half-time change - off came striker Beth England, and on came attacking midfielder Erin Cuthbert.
ThenScotland international had the first effort on goal in the second half, but her eddie of the penalty area shot sailed high over Ramsey’s crossbar.
Magda Eriksson latched onto a deep Jessie Fleming pass on 54 minutes. She beat Ramsey to the ball but the effort inched wide of goal.
The lack of goal attempts by them Blues forced Hayes into her second change when she brought on Lauren James and Jonna Andersson on 63 minutes.
Jess Carter and Sophie Ingle made way.
Within second the first effort on goal came. And it was the left boot of Harder that saw Ramsey dive to her right to parry away the angled effort.
With the clock ticking down Chelsea got a stroke of luck. Harder’s header back across into the six-yard box hit the high flowing arm of Lisa Robertson. Referee Emily Heaslip awarded the spot kick which Penile diptychs wit consummate easy, sending Ramsey the ring way.
Drew Spence was next to enter the fray on 81 minutes - in a bid to shore up the midfield.
Off came Harder as a result.
Then came Maren Mjelde with Kerr coming off.
Teams: Chelsea, Berger, Bright, Ingle, Carter, England, Reiten, Eriksson, Fleming, Kerr, Charles, Harder
Subs, Musovic, Nouwen, Mjelde, James, Cuthbert, Spence, Andersson, Abdullina
Birmingham City: Ramsey, Scott, Quinn, Sarri, Robertson, Murray, Pinnock, Finn, Quinn, Lawley, Cowie
Subs: Hourihan, ewens, Smith, Whipp, Ryan-Doyle, Whelan, Jenner, Worley, Wildgoose
Referee: Emily Heaslip