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IT WAS victory both on and off the pitch for Chelsea today as just under 25,000 fans flooded into Stamford Bridge to watch the Blues beat Tottenham 1-0.
Those inside the ground were treated to a hard-fought contest which was won early when Beth England’s long-distance effort beat Spurs goalkeeper Becky Spencer.
Though the match was sold-out prior to kick-off, it is estimated 15,000 supporters failed to turn up. However, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes refused to let that dampen her spirits, believing that the turnout is proof there is a willingness from fans in Britain to watch women’s football live.
Hayes said: “If you give it the space that people crave, it’s clear they are watching it. And ideally, we don’t make it free,” said Hayes.
“We have won a lot today in people’s consciousness. Women’s football will continue to grow and I’m so proud of this football club. I doubt I will ever work at a place that has pushed for women to progress like this place has.”
For England, her fourth-minute strike sealed the three points for the Blues as they look to bounce back from last season’s disappointing third-place finish.
The striker added that Tottenham should be “proud” of their performance following their promotion to the Women’s Super League this season.
“Playing in front of this crowd on this pitch is unbelievable,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of the girls. We wanted the three points and we got them.
“Last year we had a really slow start to the season with lots of draws. It was important we got the win today and Tottenham did not make it easy for us.
“They put in a good performance and should be proud of themselves.”
Chelsea would have wanted to win by a bigger margin given the way in which they dominated for long periods in their first game of the season.
Tottenham survived an early scare when the ball fell to Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson at the far post inside the opening two minutes of the match, but her attempt went just wide.
The home side did not have to wait long for the goal however, with England’s effort from outside the box the perfect opening.
Chelsea continued to look the more dominant, as Spencer was called into action a number of times in the first half and made some good saves, notably a deflected effort from Hannah Blundell and a powerful strike from Guro Reiten.
Tottenham started to come back into the contest and came close to scoring the equaliser with their best chance of the match just four minutes after the restart when debutant Rachel Furness hit a low shot but Ann-Katrin Berger managed to dive low and make the save.
Chelsea hit the woodwork twice in the 58th minute, as Drew Spence hit a powerful strike onto the crossbar, before Reiten’s follow-up header hit the post.
As the Blues looked for a second goal to seal all three points, Reiten sent in a curling free-kick which forced Spencer into another good save to deny the Norwegian midfielder.
In added time, England almost added a second after driving into the box and sending a powerful effort towards the goal, but Spencer was again able to make the save and deny the Blues forward.
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