Arsenal emphatically secure top spot, Laws the hero as Chelsea are beaten

Rachael Laws was the hero for Reading as they beat Chelsea 4-2 on penalties to secure their safe passage to the knockout stages of the FA Women’s Continental League Cup.

Katie McCabe
Katie McCabe

The Royals goalkeeper saved twice in the shoot-out to ensure the visitors claimed a vital bonus point after the two sides were locked at 1-1 after normal time at Kingsmeadow.

Chelsea were already assured of their place in the next round before the game and still finished top of their group after Deanna Cooper cancelled out Jo Potter’s first-half effort.

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Despite a strong start from the hosts, it was the Royals who broke the deadlock when Potter's clever free-kick was fizzed into the bottom corner from just outside the area.

Chelsea almost responded immediately but Bethany England's half-volley looped onto the roof of Laws' net from 20 yards out.

Reading managed to regain an element of control after the 30 minute mark and would have doubled their lead, had an audacious Angharad James shot not rebounded off the crossbar.

The hosts were literally inches away from equalising on the cusp of half-time following a goalmouth scramble which was somehow hacked clear from goal by the resilient Royals defence.

Chelsea were struggling to break down Reading's stubborn backline and needed a moment of brilliance to do so. On 66 minutes up stepped Cooper to strike from 30 yards. It swerved into the corner, out of the reach of Laws in the Royals goal.

Substitute Amalie Eikeland nearly restored Reading's advantage a minute later, but the Norwegian's header from only a couple of yards out hit the post.

With eight minutes remaining, Guro Reiten teed up Sophie Ingle to strike, but the latter's effort deflected onto the Reading crossbar.

Chelsea's England and Cooper were then the only two to miss their penalties in the shoot-out as Reading won 4-2 to join the hosts in the quarter-finals of the cup.

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Chelsea's Erin Cuthbert said: “We want to win every game. We're disappointed but ultimately we've got through the game with no injuries which is a big thing because there are a lot of midweek games and we have a fairly small squad.

“It's probably good practice for us getting a penalty shoot-out. We have topped the group, and that's what we set out to do when the groups came out."

"It's important that we have momentum now. We've had good results. It was ten wins in a row before this. We're making it hard for teams to beat us and that's the starting point if you want to win any trophies or the league title.

“I think the starting point is being hard to beat, and that's what we're working on, but we also need to work on being more clinical. We've had a few good chances tonight and could have put the game to bed early on."

Reading goalkeeper Rachael Laws said: "Obviously I'm ecstatic, but the credit doesn't just go to me. The girls were outstanding in front of me tonight, from the first whistle to the last whistle and penalties. Credit to every single one of them.

"We chatted before the game and against Arsenal on Sunday the defence were superb. Jo Potter and Sophie Howard in particular were dictating, stepping in when they could.

“They were winning headers, fouls, taking shots to the body. All of the girls were fantastic, but particularly those two in front of me were phenomenal."

“Chelsea are always a big threat and if you look at their starting XI it's strong throughout, even if they make changes.

“We knew that if we scored we're good enough to hang on and we were until they scored but afterwards our heads didn't go. We could have crumbled, but the girls were excellent."

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Carly Telford; Deanna Cooper, Magdalena Eriksson, Jess Carter, Hannah Blundell; Sophie Ingle, So-Yun Ji; Guro Reiten, Drew Spence, Erin Cuthbert; Bethany England

Substitutes: Jonna Anderson for Blundell 71, Maren Mjelde for Ji 71

Substitutes not used: Ann Katrin-Berger, Ramona Bachmann, Charlotte Fleming, Charlotte Wardlaw

Goals: Cooper 66

Bookings: Carter 14

Reading (4-3-3): Rachael Laws; Maz Pacheco, Jo Potter, Sophie Howard, Kristine Leine; Remi Allen, Jade Moore, Angharad James; Lisa-Marie Utland, Fara Williams, Brooke Chaplen

Substitutes: Amalie Eikeland for Utland 45, Millie Farrow for Potter 77

Substitutes not used: Grace Moloney, Maxime Bennink, Niamh Reynolds, Sophie Quirk

Goals: Potter 15

Bookings: Moore 44

Referee: Paul Johnson

Attendance: 1,783

Jonny Singer, Sportsbeat

Arsenal emphatically secured top spot in Group B of the FA Women’s Continental League Cup with a 9-0 win over London Bees at Meadow Park.

Katie McCabe bagged a hat-trick, while Melisa Filis and Lisa Evans both scored twice for Gunners side that made eight changes from their last league game, but still had more than enough quality to deliver the goods.

In fact, it could have been more had it not been for an inspired performance from Bees‘ keeper Sarah Quantrill, who produced a string of fine saves.

It was Bees who made the stronger start to proceedings, Flo Gamby bringing forcing Pauline Peyraud-Magnin into action inside a minute with a header following good work from Lauren Pickett.

But from then on Arsenal looked comfortable, taking the lead on eight minutes when McCabe tapped home Filis’s low cross.

She added a second half an hour later, firing a Vivianne Miedema cut-back into the top corner.

Quantrill did her best to keep the scoreline down, denying Miedema and Ruby Grant one-on-one, and pushing powerful strikes from Jill Roord and Grant around the post.

But she couldn’t stop Filis making it three just before half time, the winger arriving to slide the ball into the net from Miedema’s outside-of-the-foot cross.

Half-time subs Beth Mead and Lisa Evans combined just moments after the break to add a fourth, before Mead walked through a static defence to make it five sixty seconds later.

McCabe wrapped up her hat-trick from an Evans cross inside an hour, and, after more Quantrill heroics had kept the Gunners at bay for a while, a late flurry of goals from Filis, Louise Quinn, and Evans put a gloss on the scoreline.

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Bees goalkeeper Sarah Quantrill said: “Going into tonight we knew it was going to be difficult, we're probably in our worst run of form and they’re in their best, but we tried to dig in and stick with it as long as we could. But in the end fitness and their quality got the better of us.

“We always knew once they got ahead, they were capable of adding more and more, so we tried to keep them out for as long as we could, but after the first one they got the confidence and our heads went down, and they just pushed on.

“The start of the second half really killed us. We were digging in and they came so quickly out of the gate, and that killed us really. But we've got to bounce back, we've got a big game against Blackburn in the league on Sunday, we need to get out of this rut we're in and push on.”

Arsenal’s Katie McCabe said: “I'm delighted with how the team performed tonight, with the young kids coming in as well, Ruby and Mel and we could give our old veterans a rest too, which is nice.

“We just demand the best from each other and that's what creates a winning team, a winning mentality. It was frustrating to lose the cup last year so we're looking to move into the next round with confidence and win it back this year.

“We wanted to come out and make a statement and finish top of the group. We knew we wouldn't be gifted the three points tonight and we did what we came here to do. At half time we knew we had to come out fast, not be complacent - they had threats up top, great pace in behind, so we really needed to manage it.

“Me and Beth (Mead) were having a joke at the start of the game because I hadn't scored yet, playing in the deeper role this year. So it was nice to get up and running with the three. But what's important is us going into the next round, the team performance and not my goals!”

Arsenal (4-3-3): Pauline Peyraud-Magnin; Leonie Maier, Louise Quinn, Jennifer Beattie, Emma Mitchell; Jill Roord, Viktoria Schnaderbeck, Ruby Grant; Melisa Filis, Vivianne Miedema, Katie McCabe

Substitutes: Leah Williamson for Beattie 18, Lisa Evans for Miedema 46, Beth Mead for Schnaderbeck 46

Substitutes not used: Manuela Zinsberger, Gracie Pearse

Goals: McCabe 8, 34, 54; Filis 45, 77, Evans 48, 88, Mead 49, Quinn 86

London Bees (4-4-1-1): Sarah Quantrill; Ellie WIlson, Georgia Roberts, Billie Brooks, Hayley West; Flo Gamby, Nicola Gibson, Merrick Will, Mollie Dench; Nikita Whinnett; Lauren Pickett

Substitutes: Bonnie Horwood for Will 46, Courtnay Ward-Chambers for Dench 59, Connie Forman for Gamby 80

Substitutes not used: Mathilda Finburgh, Faye Hazelton

Referee: Lisa Benn