Beth England scored an injury-time winner as Chelsea beat London rivals Arsenal in dramatic style to lift the Women’s Continental League Cup for the first time.
England tapped home a fine ball across the face of goal from Maren Mjelde for her second goal of the game to seal victory in front of a competition record crowd of 6,743 in Nottingham.
The Chelsea forward had put her side ahead early on, turning in a crowded area to fire the ball into the bottom corner after five-time winners Arsenal failed to clear the danger.
Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger made a string of saves to deny the Gunners a first-half equaliser, foiling Louise Quinn and Jordan Nobbs in quick succession before keeping Arsenal’s 29-goal top scorer Vivianne Miedema out.
Miedema had a hat-trick of chances to level after the break, drilling a low shot just wide before Berger twice saved from the Dutch striker – first from a header before making a fine reflex save.
It was from the ensuing corner that Leah Williamson levelled with a sliding finish. However, fine work from Kerr on the edge of the box in the 92nd minute helped set up England’s 21st goal of the season and sealed a dramatic win at the City Ground.
The League Cup triumph means Emma Hayes’ Chelsea, who are second in the Women’s Super League table and just a point from the summit with a game in hand, have a chance of claiming a domestic treble for the first time.
Arsenal, third in the league, through to the FA Cup quarter-finals and up against Paris Saint-Germain in the last eight of the Champions League, are still chasing a treble of their own despite missing out on the first piece of silverware up for grabs this term.
However, their hopes of going the distance on all fronts has been hit hard by injuries, with the Gunners’ Australian boss Joe Montemurro only able to name five substitutes for the final with Kim Little, Beth Mead and Lia Walti out injured as well as long-term absentee Danielle Carter.
Chelsea’s win took their unbeaten run to 28 games, spanning more than 10 months across all domestic and European competitions since being beaten by Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final last season.
Kerr, who collected her first piece of silverware in the English game in just her seventh appearance, sent an early warning shot for Chelsea, turning brilliantly to create space and time to force Manuela Zinsberger into the game’s first save after just 58 seconds.
The Australia star then sent Guro Reiten through on goal and while Zinsberger was able to again keep the Blues out, Arsenal failed to deal with a deep cross from the left that was headed back inside by Mjelde for England to finish moments later.
Arsenal were unrelenting but ultimately unsuccessful in search of a first-half response, with Berger clawing a brilliant header from Quinn away before saving from Nobbs and Miedema.
England twice threatened to add a second before the break, first sending a header narrowly wide before having another effort well blocked by Quinn after the impressive Caitlin Foord – in just her second game in England – hit the side netting at the other end.
Both sides had chances after the break, with Berger proving instrumental in frustrating Arsenal until the 85th minute when Williamson pounced after Chelsea failed to clear a corner.
At the other end, Zinsberger had kept Kerr out with the Australian through on goal earlier in the second half, but the Gunners defence could not contain her as she muscled her way into the box to find Mjelde to tee up England up for the winner.
Clough’s female equivalent?
Hayes had said she “might be the female equivalent” of the late, great Brian Clough, and she collected the Women’s League Cup trophy for the first time in the stadium that the former Nottingham Forest manager called home for the greatest years of his illustrious career.
The Clough legend, however, went beyond his four League Cup triumphs, having taken Forest from the second division to the top of English and European football in three years.
And while ‘Continental’ is the sponsored name of the trophy that Hayes has added to the club’s collection, the Londoners are yet to conquer the continent itself.
The silverware, however, does distinguish her as just the second female manager to win all three major domestic honours in England and added to her reputation as the finest boss in the women’s game in Britain.
England is England’s in-form number nine
Chelsea striker England distinguished herself as English domestic football’s most prolific scorer with her double, further strengthening the claims of club manager Hayes for her to be the Lionesses’ first-choice number nine for next week’s SheBelieves Cup in the United States.
Her cool finishes, first to give the Blues an early lead and to win it in injury time, proved how reliable she has become for the Londoners.
Of the five England players involved in the last domestic fixture before the international break for the four-team invitation tournament, only Chelsea’s reserve goalkeeper Carly Telford did not feature.
Millie Bright was kept busy at the back for a Chelsea side that was at times under siege by an Arsenal team led by her Lionesses team-mate Nobbs and urged forward by Williamson, who played a more advanced role in midfield.
Club football returns to Nottingham
The City Ground became just the second venue after Bramall Lane to host both the Women’s League and FA Cup final and the first to set record attendances for both deciders.
Chelsea’s win at the 30,445-seater stadium in front of the 6,743 spectators came a decade after the home of Nottingham Forest last hosted the Women’s FA Cup showpiece and 12 years since the stadium drew a modern-day record crowd for a women’s cup final outside of Wembley.
The all-London decider was also the first professional women’s club game played in the city since the financial demise of Notts County – a Women’s Super League side that was based at Meadow Lane on the opposite bank of the River Trent.
Chelsea goalkeeper Telford was part of the Notts side and was on the bench on her return to the city.