Fran Kirby’s double helps Chelsea beat Reading to secure WSL title

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: John Walton/PA</span>
Photograph: John Walton/PA

Two goals from Fran Kirby, the favourite to be named player of the year, helped Chelsea to retain their Women’s Super League title on the last day of the season with a 5-0 defeat of Reading.

Related: Chelsea pip Man City to Women’s Super League title after 5-0 win over Reading

The Australian forward Sam Kerr added her 21st goal of the season to secure the golden boot ahead of Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema: it is her sixth top-scorer trophy, having twice finished No 1 in Australia and three times in the US.

Melanie Leupolz gave the hosts an early lead, and Erin Cuthbert prodded in to complete the rout.

Chelsea needed a win, or a point while maintaining their superior goal difference, and there was an edge of tension to the somewhat celebratory atmosphere in the fan-less Kingsmeadow.

With the stage for the winners’ presentation in pieces and waiting to one side and Football Association officials and media aplenty, nothing could quite quell the sense of “what if?” What if the wildly inconsistent Reading delivered another sucker punch, having ended Manchester United’s hopes of Champions League qualification in February? What if the gruelling schedule were to finally get the better of Emma Hayes’s side?

What if the trophy would be needed in east London where second-placed Manchester City were playing West Ham? It was perhaps reflective of the confidence that has pumped through the veins of this Chelsea team all season that those worries were squashed within 68 seconds.

Chelsea have no time for tension or nerves, the rollercoaster journey to the Champions League final next week has been enough.

Having forced a corner, the full‑back Jess Carter playing on the left in place of Jonna Andersson for the second time, cut back to the midfielder Melanie Leupolz and the German swept in from 15 yards. It was the fastest goal scored in the league this season.

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“Melanie Leupolz is such a true pro, she really is,” said Hayes. “She’s a serious, serious winner, a player I’ve so enjoyed coaching this year. When she came up with that I thought: ‘Consistent player, always delivers’, and it was great because it really settled our nerves.”

The reverse fixture may have resulted in a 5-0 win for Chelsea in January (where Kirby scored a first‑half hat-trick against her former side) but Reading are not an easy opponent. As well as defeating Manchester United, they have also earned draws with Manchester City and Arsenal this term.

That was evident after the goal, Chelsea continued to dominate but the visiting team were resilient. Chelsea though would capitalise on a dip in concentration at the close of the half that would allow the magical link-up play between Sam Kerr and Kirby to bear more fruit. The England forward played to Kerr on the right and the Australian pulled it back for her teammate, who lofted the ball into the top corner from an angle. The dynamic pair have scored 37 goals and provided 19 assists in the league across the season, many in combination with each other.

Related: Emma Hayes leans into lessons from geese to find Chelsea a V for victory | Louise Taylor

With the title all but secured Chelsea took the foot off the gas, allowing Reading just enough of the ball to put a bit of wind in their sails but the home team never looked out of control.

As Reading pressed forward they left gaps at the back and Kerr would leap on some hesitant defending before squaring to Kirby, who sent a swerving effort in from the edge of the area.

Almost as the ball hit the net Hayes was readying three changes with one eye on next week’s final, with the full‑back Niamh Charles, magical midfielder Ji So-yun and the European player of the year, Pernille Harder, withdrawn.

Unwilling to deny Kirby a possible hat-trick, or Kerr the chance to make sure of the golden boot, the pair stayed on and combined again for the fourth. This time Kirby was the provider, scooping the ball over the top for Kerr to volley in.

“I really wanted Sam to be given the golden boot, I really did, the team did, she deserves that,” said Hayes.

With 15 minutes to play Cuthbert added the fifth, prodding in after the Reading goalkeeper, Grace Moloney, had clawed away Kerr’s header.

The celebrations will be brief with the Champions League final (link) still to play, but Hayes’ side deserve to take time to reflect on a remarkably ruthless campaign.

A second title win without fans was a sour note. “How crap is that?,” said Hayes. “It really is. Football without fans just isn’t the same. That’s why I dedicated this to everyone at home. Not just the fans, our families, all the players and staff’s families, they’re the ones sat at home while we still get to come to work and enjoy all these highs.”

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