It was Sam Kerr who came to haunt United again, despite the Reds putting in an impressive performance in the first half. Wembley saw a record attendance for a cup game in English women’s football history, as the atmosphere looked electric at times.
Marc Skinner went with a tried and tested line-up in the final, with the front four of Alessia Russo, Leah Galton, Nikita Parris and Ella Toone all starting infront of the midfield duo of Katie Zelem and Hayley Ladd. The reliable back four of Hannah Blundell, Millie Turner, Maya le Tissier and Ona Batlle started, as the United left-back was expected to have a tough battle up against ex-Red Lauren Jamees.
United started the half brightly. Within the first 20 seconds, it seemed as if they had taken the lead. Galton had put the ball into the back of the net after a quick United transition but the joy was cut short as Toone was offside. Chelsea were rattled, as United rode on the confidence from a bright start.
The Reds tested the Chelsea back line early on, putting pressure on them and constantly cycling possession in the final third as the Blues managed to clear some crosses from out wide.
Just when Chelsea were slowly growing into the game, Nikita Parris’ curled shot was right at Ann-Katrin Berger. Ella Toone had set her up with a cheeky back pass when she could have taken a shot herself.
Chelsea pressing with two upfront meant that United were building with Hannah Blundell deep for a numerical advantage in build-up and the Reds were much more keen on keeping possession, as Chelsea relied on the space behind that Sam Kerr could exploit.
A big chance fell United’s way in the 32nd minute. Zelem’s long free kick into the box created problems for Chelsea, who failed to clear it. The loose ball fell to Millie Turner, whose shot was saved well by Berger. Turner’s balance was off while she was taking the shot and she couldn’t get as much power in the attempt as she wanted.
A few minutes later, Leah Galton had a massive chance for United as Russo’s cross from the right caused problems. It met Galton right in front of the goal mouth but the United forward’s shot sailed over. Magdalena Eriksson’s touch did put her off.
In the 41st minute, Chelsea soon made perfect use of the space that United were leaving behind. As Kerr found space to run in behind and while her cross didn’t meet anyone, United’s failure to clear it meant that Lauren James’ header nearly looped in. Somehow, Earps got a hand to it and it went out after smacking the post.
A contentious moment came right at the end of the half, as Parris seemed to have been brought down inside the box but the referee only handed a free kick from the edge of the box. Replays showed that Parris had gone down inside the penalty area after contact was made on the line.
Pernille Harder, who was on the bench, was brought on to make an impact in the 2nd half after having been impressive since her return from a long-term injury. She immediately had a chance for Chelsea but she scuffed her shot after Kerr set her through from the left.
The game become much more stretched in the 2nd half, as both teams found rooms around each others’ defences. Harder did make an impact in the 68th minute and Kerr haunted United again. United lost the ball in midfield and Harder was set through wide on the right. Her ball inside was perfect and Kerr was perfectly positioned at the back post to tap in home.
It was her 8th goal against United, as Chelsea did something United couldn’t- take their chance.
In a way, United deserved to concede despite the solid first half. The 2nd half was flat, as Chelsea denied them any space or time on the ball and were quick to every 2nd ball in midfield.
Chelsea had a massive chance to double the lead in the 81st minute. Kerr had gone past Le Tissier easily on the right and her pass inside was meant for Harder but Ingle latched onto it before anyone else and skied the effort over Earps.
The Blues nearly lived to regret the missed chance as Batlle did extremely well to get down the right side and put a cross in, but it evaded everyone and a shot at the end of it remained elusive.
And the flat performance in the 2nd half meant that United didn’t even seem likely to get an equaliser, despite the introductions of Martha Thomas and Rachel Williams to United’s attacking battery.
Berger had a nervous moment at the very end of the game as she nearly dropped a cross when the box was crowded, but Chelsea somehow managed to clear it before it landed on a United feet.
This is now Chelsea’s third consecutive FA Cup win. The loss will haunt United - just like Kerr has, but they can only make sure that they don’t slip up in the league with the Blues pulling close behind them.