Youngster Lauren Hemp bagged a dramatic leveller for Alan Mahon’s league leaders, after goals from Ellen White and Georgia Stanway had been cancelled out by Ji So-yun and Magdalena Eriksson before Bethany England turned the game on its head.
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With Stanway also seeing a penalty saved at 2-2, the game – and the title race – looked to swing firmly in Chelsea’s favour but Hemp, who netted the winner in the 2-1 triumph over fellow rivals Arsenal, popped up once more to salvage a potentially pivotal point.
Both sides headed into the clash in fine form – City: on the back of a sensational 10-0 win over Ipswich Town in the FA Women’s Cup and having broken a league record with our eleventh successive home win in the competition in our against Arsenal.
Previous meetings with Chelsea (of which there have been many – the pair clashing on a remarkable 21 occasions since City entered the top flight in 2014) had proven equally tightly-fought encounters with games rarely decided by more than a one-goal margin – if at all.
City looked to avenge December’s 2-1 reverse with captain Steph Houghton seeking her 100th league win.
The encounter proved thoroughly entertaining - end-to-end from the off.
The game’s first chance arrived after just 20 seconds, as new Chelsea star Sam Kerr was put through, only to be denied by Ellie Roebuck’s outstretched leg, and England could not connect to convert the rebound.
City responded instantly. White saw an early effort deflected wide with both sides threatening at every opportunity.
Caroline Weir spurned a glorious chance to break the deadlock, volleying over from close range, before White and Kerr both watched headers bounce just wide.
Stanway then produced a fantastic block to deny what looked a certain opener, and City instead broke the deadlock with our next attack of note, as White swept home Janine Beckie’s pinpoint cross at the nearpost midway through the first 45.
Chelsea hit back with a slice of fortune, as Ji’s chest-and-volley took a deflection and looped into the bottom corner. The two sides headed into the break level.
The battle showed no signs of letting up in the second period.
England forced Roebuck into another smart stop before the game swung back into City’s favour when Stanway raced clear and thundered past Berger.
The joy was short-lived however as Eriksson headed in from close range to level once more and there was further drama to follow, as Berger denied Stanway from the spot minutes later after Weir had been upended by Sophie Ingle.
Stung by the suckerpunch, City fell behind through a trademark England piledriver from distance, as the visitors took the lead for the first time in the game, creating a huge shift in the title race.
Ever valiant to the finish though, the home side found a crucial leveller, with Hemp bagging yet another pivotal strike, poking home Weir’s delicious through-ball.
Both sides pressed for a winner but a seventh goal did not arrive, and the title race remains very much in the balance…
A brilliant advert for the women's game, watched on by another impressive crowd, and marred only by a late injury to Roebuck, who was stretchered off in seven minutes of injury time.
What it means
City stay top of the table with 40 points – one point above the Londoners, who have a game in hand and a superior goal difference.
Having rotated the side for last weekend’s stunning victory over Ipswich, Mahon reverted to a more familiar starting XI.
Player of the Match
A constant threat down the left flank and showing a maturity beyond her years, Hemp's predatory instinct proved yet again why she is regarded as one of the most exciting young talents in the English game.
The league breaks for international duty with England’s Lionesses looking to retain the SheBelieves Cup.
City return to domestic action with a trip to Leicester City in the FA Women’s Cup quarter-finals on Sunday 15 March.
With a hat-trick of consecutive away fixtures in March, Mahon’s side return to the Academy Stadium on Sunday 5 April, facing Reading in a 2pm kick-off.
Tickets for all home games are available online or at the Etihad Stadium Ticket Office.