The Women’s Super League champions have finally faced their first loss in England’s top flight for over two years.
Chelsea had only just beaten the record for most games undefeated in the WSL, previously held by Manchester City. The glorious spell was broken by ninth-place Brighton & Hove Albion. The Seagulls denied the Blues the three points that would put them further ahead of Manchester United atop the table.
Emma Hayes heavily rotated her squad for the fixture. The changes were necessary due to the match being their fourth in less than two weeks. Newcomer Jessie Fleming received a starting spot and first-choice defenders Millie Bright and Maren Mjelde were rested.
The heavy changes were not immediately a cause for concern against a side so far behind in goals and points. However, Hayes’ comments about not ever being complacent as league leaders quickly come to mind with hindsight.
The champions got off to a comfortable start, with Sam Kerr striking the back of the net within five minutes. Despite this, the home side barely had a moment to enjoy their lead. Aileen Whelan equalised three minutes later from a corner.
Chelsea reacted well to the lapse in their defence, pressing hard. They certainly were not short of opportunities in front of the goal, which makes it difficult to see why they failed to score for the rest of the half.
Plenty of chances were created, with some fifty crosses put in – but barely any were able to trouble Megan Walsh much. The ‘keeper kept her cool against such a relentless attack.
After the break, Hayes made a triple change to potentially boost the accuracy of attack. Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby looked prepped to convert chances, but still no goal came. There seemed to always be a well-placed defender in yellow to stop the shot.
Despite lagging behind in opportunities on goal, Brighton made one count. Megan Connolly’s superb delivery from the corner sailed straight past the hands of Carly Telford. Defence was definitely lacking for the Blues, missing key starters on the back line.
Chelsea pushed on, but couldn’t find it within them to equalise, let alone surpass the visitors.
The defeat perhaps came as a shock to many, but it goes to show that the champions are never invincible. Four back-to-back fixtures tested the depth of Hayes’ side, and they could not keep their winning streak alive. Nevertheless, the boss’ drive for her team is unlikely to let this defeat cloud their vision for the league title.