Chelsea fought back to beat 10-player Reading as Sam Kerr marked her greatly anticipated debut in the Women’s Super League with a classy assist in an eventful game at Kingsmeadow.
The Australia striker set up the hosts’ equaliser with a perfectly weighted backheel into the path of Beth England to draw Chelsea level, before Guro Reiten’s brilliant lob and Erin Cuthbert’s close-range finish gave Chelsea an ultimately comfortable victory.
Earlier, England’s most-capped international Fara Williams had stunned the Blues by drilling in the opener for the visitors, moments before Reading keeper Grace Moloney was sent off for a late challenge on Kerr right on the edge of the box.
That incident changed the game and Chelsea could have scored more but saw a lively Kerr miss two excellent chances, while Reading’s substitute keeper Rachael Laws was in fine form to keep the scoreline at 3-1.
The result extended Chelsea’s unbeaten WSL campaign to 10 matches, as the home crowd got their first glimpse of one of the highest-profile signings in the division’s nine-year history.
Kerr, the record scorer in both the American and Australian leagues, signed for Chelsea in November but was not eligible to make her first appearance until Sunday.
An eventful debut for Kerr
Her WSL introduction almost got off to the perfect start inside 90 seconds, when she raced through on goal with her first touches of the ball in English football but stunned the expectant home crowd by clipping her strike over the crossbar.
But that was just the start of an incident-packed first appearance for the player who recently topped the Guardian’s respected poll of the top 100 women’s players in the world for 2019.
For the sending off of Moloney, Kerr’s pace helped her get to the ball first before she was clattered by the on-rushing Royals keeper, and the 26-year-old from Western Australia required some treatment on the field after the collision.
Back on her feet, Kerr saw a low, close-range effort from a tight angle kept out by a good save from replacement keeper Laws, before showing her class with a clever backheel into England’s path for the equaliser.
After the break, Kerr was played clean through by England and had time to slot past Laws, but could not beat the keeper – but, from the clearance, the ball was eventually expertly lobbed into the corner from range by Norway’s Reiten.
Scotland international Cuthbert poked in on the rebound after a neat team move down Chelsea’s left for the third, before another good stop from Laws kept out England late on, after Chelsea keeper Ann-Katrin Berger had also done well to save from Millie Farrow.
Australia star Kerr, who was substituted with 13 minutes remaining to a warm ovation, had also crossed brilliantly for England earlier in the half, but Laws produced another good save.
Overall, Kerr’s debut was impressive despite her missed chances, with her movement off the ball causing the Royals constant problems.
She found clever pockets of space and repeatedly managed to peel off her marker’s shoulder, darting into space and showing glimpses of what her widely respected talents can deliver in the WSL over the course of her two-and-a-half-year contract.