A second half four-goal blitz saw Chelsea reach another FA Cup semi-final against a hapless Birmingham City at Kingsmeadow.
Returning captain Magdalena Eriksson opened the scoring moments before half-time for Emma Hayes’ side, before goals from Drew Spence, Niamh Charles and a brace from Beth England put deserved gloss on the scoreline.
Fresh from their comfortable midweek victory over Everton, Chelsea shuffled their considerable pack. Ann-Katrin Berger replaced Zecira Musovic in goal.
Club captain Eriksson returned in place of Aniek Nouwen, partnered by Millie Bright and Jess Carter. Spence came into the midfield alongside Ji So-Yun, with Sophie Ingle screening the defence.
Jessie Fleming and Niamh Charles both kept their places, whilst Jonna Andersson also came into the lineup at wing-back.
The likes of Sam Kerr and Erin Cuthbert were on the bench while Pernille Harder was rested completely. Instead, England started upfront.
For Birmingham, Marie Hourihan started in goal with Abbie Cowey, Gemma Lawley, Louise Quinn, and Lisa Robertson in the back four.
A packed midfield contained Christie Murray, Jamie Finn, and Veatriki Sarri, with Eleanor Ryan-Doyle and Lucy Quinn occupying the wide roles. This left Libby Smith with the enviable task of playing up against three central defenders as the lone striker.Embed from Getty Images
The game started at a slow pace. Chelsea dominated possession but showed limited ability to break down a dogged Brum defence. The first chance fell to Lucy Quinn as she floated a volley over the bar.
Chelsea should have opened the scoring minutes later. Fleming’s terrific pass released England who composed herself to try and find the corner, but Hourihan denied her with an outstretched leg. The resulting loose ball was put wide by Ji as it remained goalless.
Chelsea continued to dominate on the ball, but Birmingham stood firm. On the 19th minute, a trademark Millie Bright thunderbolt looked destined for the top corner, but it cannoned back off the crossbar instead.
England sent several headers sailing over the crossbar, whilst Ji cleared the stadium with one wild effort, before driving well wide. In truth, Chelsea’s opening half was poor and Birmingham deserved to make it to half-time with parity.
However, their concentration slipped as they were punished in the 44th minute. A cheap free-kick was teased to the back of the box. England cleverly headed the ball back into the danger area, and Spence flicked it on once again. The resulting ball found Eriksson in splendid isolation inside the six-yard box and the captain marked her return to the starting 11 after four months of injury with a goal.
The whistle blew moments later. It was a totally different team-talk for Emma Hayes and also for Darren Carter.
HT: Chelsea 1-0 BirminghamEmbed from Getty Images
Chelsea came out after half-time with renewed vigour, clearly eager to kill off the tie. England spurned another chance before some great defending from Louise Quinn shut the door on Fleming as the Canuck shaped to shoot. However, Chelsea took the tie away from Birmingham just 10 minutes into the second half.
Some excellent passing saw Chelsea progress neatly through the compact Birmingham space. The ball reached Fleming who drove towards the box.
Her sensible pass across to Niamh Charles was perfectly weighted for the England international to lay the loose ball off for the on-rushing Spence. Chelsea’s record appearance-maker showed composure to finish well just inside the box. Her effort curled away from Hourihan into the corner of the net. It marked a personal milestone: her 50th goal for the Blues.
A seven-minute salvo put the game completely to bed. First, on the 62nd minute, a stunning pass from Ji picked out Spence inside the box. As Hourihan came steaming off her line, Spence calmly backheeled the ball back into the path of England. The centre-forward swept home into the empty net.Embed from Getty Images
Minutes later on the 65th minute, Hourihan picked the ball out of her net again. Again, a deep corner was kept alive by England who flicked the ball back into danger. Niamh Charles steamed in to head home from close range. This signaled a raft of changes from Emma Hayes to keep players fresh.
Departing the field were Charles, Fleming, and Ji. They were replaced by Alsu Abudullina, Lauren James, and notably, Maren Mjelde. This was the Norwegian’s first home appearance for over a year.Embed from Getty Images
The final goal of the game came in the 72nd minute. Again, neat play from two Chelsea players – Abdullina and England – saw the latter find herself just outside the box. She composed herself to fire brilliantly into the corner from 20 yards. Birmingham reacted by bringing off Ryan-Doyle for Delphi Cole in the aftermath.
Chelsea smelled blood and nearly scored again moments later. Lauren James’ impressive run from just inside the Birmingham half saw her glide past multiple players, but as she cut inside, she was crowded out, right as she shaped to shoot.
Birmingham made one final change as the game petered out. Abbi Jenner replaced Lucy Quinn for some fresh legs. However, Chelsea still went closest to a final goal. Another corner caused problems for Birmingham. However, Jonna Andersson’s header into the ground looped up and hit the top of the crossbar.
FT: Chelsea 5-0 Birmingham
Chelsea once again struggled to break down their opponent initially, just like against West Midlands rivals Aston Villa last week. However, Eriksson’s goal broke the deadlock and the floodgates opened. Hayes will be glad to have been able to rest key players ahead of the crucial midweek game against Tottenham Hotspur.
For Birmingham, a credible FA Cup run comes to an end. Darren Carter now has to rouse his players for a tough task next Sunday. A visit away to Manchester City Women, still hunting third place and that final UWCL spot.