Sam Kerr handed a battling Chelsea side the FA Cup and a domestic double in a 3-2 defeat of Manchester City that went to extra time. In front of a record FA Cup final crowd of 49,094 fans, the Australian forward scored the opener and the winner – her seventh and eighth goals in four consecutive domestic cup finals – to ensure Chelsea retained the title they won on 5 December.
Lauren Hemp levelled for City before the break but Erin Cuthbert’s blistering strike from the edge of the box gave Chelsea the lead for a second time before a 89th-minute goal from the substitute Haley Raso took the final to extra time where Kerr pounced on a mistake from her compatriot Alanna Kennedy to race clear and score.
There is no love lost between Manchester City and Chelsea, who have exchanged blows at the top of the Women’s Super League since 2015, with only Arsenal’s title win in 2019 and runner-up spot this term pushing either team out of the top two.
The City manager, Gareth Taylor, had said it would be two teams “going at it, slugging it out” and he was not wrong. There was only one yellow card in the first half, which was collected by the City centre-back Kennedy, but the tackles came in thick and fast, with stoppages for the clattering of the Chelsea trio Cuthbert, Pernille Harder and Sophie Ingle, and the City forward Bunny Shaw.
Despite City having had the better chances in the opening minutes, it was Chelsea who took the lead and the indomitable England centre-back Millie Bright powered the move, collecting the clearance from a Chelsea free-kick on the right before thumping the ball goalward only for Kerr to steal in and nod the final yard over the line it looked destined to cross anyway.
There was a risk in the following period that City would be cowered, and Chelsea would exploit their bruised prey. First, Guro Reiten would lift a 30-yard effort over the bar with Ellie Roebuck miles off her line, then Harder would shoot wide from distance too.
Having weathered that little storm of Chelsea pressure, City eased back into the tie and it was another England international, one to rival her compatriot Bright for the Lionesses’ in-form player this season, who made the breakthrough up the other end. Escaping a sliding challenge from the wing-back Jess Carter, Hemp skated back into the box from the left, wrongfooted Bright and sent her effort looping into the side-netting.
In added time at the end of the half City could feel aggrieved when Shaw was felled by the centre-back Aniek Nouwen in the box but with no VAR and only goal-line technology in use there was no reassessment of the incident.
Despite the rivalry that has developed between those in sky blue shirts and their opposites in royal blue, with the past five FA Cup finals won by one of the two teams, this was the first time they had met in the final. Chelsea and City had faced each other eight times in the FA Cup or league cup before this season, where they finally met in the final of each domestic cup competition.
At Plough Lane, in the Continental League Cup final, City had edged Emma Hayes’s side, coming from a goal down to win 3-1 to clinch the first available silverware of the season.
That match was almost a microcosm of City’s season, with a first-half capitulation followed by a surging fightback. The resurgence of Taylor’s side, after the first third of the season was crippled by a summer of injuries, meant that heading into this final it could be argued that it was City, having clinched a Champions League spot and won the league cup, who were the team to beat despite Chelsea having lifted the WSL title the week prior. While City’s race to third was done at a canter, Chelsea’s path to the title was torturous.
The momentum of having crossed the line and lifted the title depleted and having dug deep cannot be underestimated, though, and it was fitting that it was the Blues’ biggest warrior who put Chelsea ahead for a second time, with Cuthbert lashing in off the bar from the edge of box with a ferocity that is characteristic of the Scot.
In search of the leveller that would keep hopes of a cup double alive City pressed forward and the substitute Raso, with one minute of normal time remaining, scored a goal worthy of her Australian compatriot in opposition colours. Collecting the centre-back Alex Greenwood’s ball over the top, Raso chested the ball down and poked past the onrushing Ann-Katrin Berger.
In extra time, unwilling to relinquish her status as Chelsea’s hero this season, Kerr latched on to the ball missed by Kennedy and charged away on a two-v-one break with the substitute Jessie Fleming alongside her. Going alone, Kerr’s shot took a deflection off the outstretched foot of Greenwood that caught out Roebuck and flew in, giving Chelsea the League Cup final revenge they craved.
Berger, Eriksson, Nouwen (Charles 69), Bright, Carter, Ingle, Cuthbert, Reiten (Andersson 91), Harder (Fleming 80), England (Ji 69), (Mjelde 117), Kerr.
Musovic, Kirby, Mjelde, James, Spence.
Roebuck, Bronze, Kennedy, Greenwood, Stokes (Blakstad 83), Walsh (Losada 117), Weir, Stanway (Coombs 80), Hemp, Shaw (White 80), Kelly (Raso 76).
Keating, Angeldahl, Park, Losada, Mace, Blakstad.