Alex Greenwood and Lauren Hemp were both sent off and Chelsea snatched a late equaliser as Manchester City Women were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea. Captain Greenwood was deemed to have taken too long to take a free-kick and received her marching orders for a second bookable offence with seven minutes of the first half remaining, while Hemp also saw red for an innocuous challenge with nine minutes remaining.
But, despite their two-player advantage, Chelsea still needed Alanna Kennedy off the pitch receiving treatment to level Chloe Kelly’s stunning first-half strike which, for most of the match, looked like being the winner.
Before the match, manager Gareth Taylor had spoken of his frustration at players receiving three-match bans for red cards, as defender Leila Ouahabi began her suspension after being sent off at West Ham. “It is frustrating, but the rules are the rules,” said the boss before discussing both Ouahabi and Aston Villa’s Kirsty Hanson, who was also sent off. “If it’s something really malicious or something where a player has cut down and really used ‘violent conduct.’ There was nothing about either of those red card challenges that were violent.”
To compensate for Ouhabi’s absence, Taylor went for a backline of Esme Morgan, Alanna Kennedy and Leila Aleixandri alongside Greenwood and the four worked well together to keep out the defending champions.
In fact, it worked so well that City were able to pin Chelsea in their own half for much of the first period, with a forward line of Kelly, Lauren Hemp and Mary Fowler a constant threat. And when Kelly gave City the lead in the 7th minute, it looked like City would make it two wins out of two at the start of the WSL season.
Fowler came infield from the right and laid the ball off to Kelly, who took a touch, lined up the shot and fired into the back of the goal, the ball taking a slight deflection on its way.
The blues continued to hold Chelsea back, and despite forays forward, City’s defence held well. But that all changed within a matter of minutes.
Greenwood was rightly booked for a challenge on Jess Fleming, but was on the receiving end of a foul a few moments later, which went unpunished. Greenwood stood up to take the free kick, but took too long in the eyes of the referee, who showed the City captain a second yellow.
Tempers frayed at the decision, with both Kelly and Aleixandri booked for dissent, while new signing Jill Roord joined them on a caution as the referee blew for halftime.
Chelsea began to make their player advantage count but still couldn’t find a way past the blues, with Khiara Keating outstanding in goal. And, when she was beaten, the woodwork saved City twice as Chelsea pressed forward.
In the 81st minute, Chelsea were given a further advantage as Hemp saw red for a clumsy challenge on the edge of the box. There was nothing in it and Hemp was stumbling as she clattered into Lauren James, but the ref saw it as a bookable offence and gave the winger her marching orders.
This only served to inspire the blues and Bunny Shaw almost grabbed City’s second after excellent work by fellow substitute Ruby Mace.
But it wasn’t to be for City.
In the last moments of added on time, and Kennedy off the pitch receiving treatment, Chelsea levelled. Another excellent save by Keating, clawing a certain goal off the line, was followed by the ball pinging around the six-yard box until Guro Reiten managed to smuggle the ball home, sparking wild celebrations from the visitors.
Greenwood Red Ruined The Match
Sometimes, football matches reach a point that turns the game in one team’s favour. That moment came in the 37th minute as Alex Greenwood was sent off. The first challenge can be agreed was a bookable offence. It was a clumsy, ill-timed challenge that was worthy of a yellow card.
But what followed next, and the remaining 60 or so minutes was a farce.
Greenwood had been fouled herself, but the referee didn’t consider it a bookable offence. Yet Greenwood was giving her team an opportunity to move up the field and was looking for options. There were still eight minutes to go until halftime, so 26 seconds to find an option and take it isn’t exactly wasting time. How long does a free kick on the edge of the area taken before the ball is played? At least 40 seconds while the opposition arranges a wall and the goalkeeper gets in position. So to claim 26 seconds is too long to find a teammate is a joke of a decision.
Yet the referee, without any warning, decided that Greenwood was wasting time and booked her again. Yes, that may be the rule, but surely common sense should prevail.
It’s at the discretion of the referee whether to book someone for time wasting and, considering she had just booked Greenwood, it would have been sensible from the referee to remind the City captain that she’d just been booked, not get herself a second yellow and hurry up.
It seemed that Greenwood thought this was what the ref was about to do when she heard the whistle, so she quickly passed sideways, with no real option up front.
That decision changed the game and possibly the result. City were very much in the ascendency at that point, with Chelsea barely having a sniff of goal. After the red card, the whole perspective of the game changed and swung firmly in Chelsea’s favour.
City continued to hold on and kept Chelsea at bay for as long as possible but, with only eight players on the field in the last moments, it seemed inevitable that Chelsea would grab a goal which, of course, they did.
The blues can be proud of their performance, proud of the way they played and take some hope going into the rest of the season. Only when they were down to eight players could Chelsea score.
If they continue with that attitude, and avoid further red cards, it could be a great season for our girls in blue.
Final Score: Manchester City Women 1-1 Chelsea Women