Ladies reaction: A performance of champions
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Chelsea Ladies completed a remarkable double as they added the FA Women’s Super League title to the FA Women’s Cup won in August courtesy of a 4-0 victory over Sunderland last night (Sunday).
Fran Kirby bagged a brace in between strikes from Ji So-Yun and Gemma Davison as the Blues blew away the Black Cats and finished the season two points clear of runners-up Manchester City. After the game, jubilant Ladies manager Emma Hayes reflected on contrasting final-day emotions as the team put last season’s heartache of missing out on the title behind them in emphatic fashion.
‘Right now, I honestly can’t remember the feeling of 12 months ago,’ she said. ‘It’s been a long year waiting for this day to come but we vowed never to go through that experience again. I’ve always said to the players that if you do it once then it’s a mistake, but if you do it twice then it’s a choice, and that’s the motto we’ve lived by throughout the season.’
Manager Emma Hayes punches the air in delight at the final whistle as she celebrates with her backroom staff in the dugout.
Ji’s opening goal settled the nerves among the record 2,710 crowd at Staines, and Hayes said the 90-minute display from her side had the look of conviction and confidence.
‘It was a champions' performance, full of character and with outstanding performances across the board. It certainly settled my nerves but that’s what we’ve come to expect of our front four; when they get around the outside of teams and play quick football, we’re capable of beating any team.
‘We have hunger, ambition and a wonderful dressing room. The club have been behind us 100 per cent. We’re not treated any differently because, like all the other teams at this club, we’re breeding champions as well now.’
Reflecting back on the season, the Blues come out on top in practically every vital statistic; most wins, joint-fewest defeats, most goals scored, fewest goals conceded and, most importantly, most league points.
However, Hayes views a two-week spell in July as particularly significant in the team’s campaign. A period of honest reflection followed back-to-back league defeats to Sunderland and Manchester City and now, with the benefits of hindsight, admits it was a testing time that brought the group closer together.
‘The players needed to go through that experience. If I’m being brutally honest, I think they were finding it a little too easy. Sometimes you need that setback to have a reality check and reminder yourselves of what you have and what you could lose.
‘Losing those two games back-to-back set us up for the Women’s Cup final and since then we’ve had the confidence of being a winning team, which breeds a different kind of mentality. We’ve gone up to another level, not just in matches but especially in training.’
The players celebrate being crowned champions on the Wheatsheaf Park turf as they take the acclaim of the record crowd.
The title victory came exactly 23 years to the day since the first ever Chelsea Ladies match was played. Hayes admitted afterwards that piece of history formed a key part of her motivational preparation with her players.
‘I actually pulled a few pieces off Twitter to show to the girls. The first was from a parent of an Under-15 girl talking about how we’ve inspired her daughter; the second was about four young guys coming to the game today and how the make-up of our support is changing; the third was from our marketing officer at the football club, who is so proud of what the club is doing for women’s football; and the fourth was about that anniversary.
‘It made the hairs on our necks stand up so that was the inspiration, talking about the legacy and the bigger picture. We have hunger and ambition, plus I’ve always said that character will play a part in whether we can go on to dominate for many years to come. We’ve certainly got a wonderful dressing room to try to achieve that.’
As is often the case in football, celebrations will be cut short as preparations for the Chelsea Ladies’ debut in the UEFA Women’s Champions League take centre stage this week. The Blues host Glasgow City at Staines this Thursday 8 October and supporters can purchase tickets online now.
‘We’re all excited. We have a team that can be deadly, we’re very good on the counter-attack and I think we have the experience you need to compete in Europe. The focus shifts straight on to this for us; you can’t work all year to get into this competition and then squander the opportunity at the first hurdle.
‘We don’t underestimate Glasgow City. It will be a great British tie and we want to make sure we get ourselves in a good position before we go away from home in the second leg.’
Before then, Hayes will allow herself and her players a brief moment to appreciate the enormity of their double success. As the supporters filtered out of Wheatsheaf Park and the hullabaloo died down, the manager glanced around the ground and reflected.
‘When I was told I was going to build a legacy at Chelsea, I certainly didn’t expect it to look like this. Seeing 2,700 people here today with their blue flags, a brass band and my team as double winners – what more can I ask for.’