Two locations, two trophies, but there was only ever one outcome. For all the anticipation and hype ahead of a final day of the Women’s Super League season, with everything still to play for, it was a somewhat muted end to the record-breaking campaign, which has seen attendances up by 173% on last season.
Guro Reiten starred for Chelsea, providing the assist for Sam Kerr and scoring herself, before Kerr added a third, as they consigned Reading to the Championship and earned a fourth successive title. They pipped Manchester United by two points, the Red Devils having taken the lead against Liverpool in the 72nd minute but Chelsea were already two goals up and a miracle from Reading was needed.
Without Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder for much of the campaign, with the influential defender Millie Bright missing the final third of the season, with the manager Emma Hayes absent for five weeks following an emergency hysterectomy, Chelsea are champions, having broken the record set by themselves for the most wins in a league season. It is a remarkable highlight of Hayes’ dynastic tenure at the club; winning the league and FA Cup double with the team in transition and at times far from their best.
Hayes may have been full of smiles and affection for her counterpart Kelly Chambers ahead of the game, handing the heavily pregnant manager a bunch of flowers at the end of a guard of honour to mark her 20th year at Reading, but there was no room for sympathy come kick-off.
The Chelsea manager stuck with the same starting XI that earned a 2-0 defeat of Arsenal last weekend to keep the destination of the title firmly in their hands. For Chambers, there were five changes to the team that lost to Tottenham last Saturday, including Deanne Rose, who returned to the starting lineup for the first time since she was sidelined with a bad achilles injury in September.
There were more Chelsea fans at the Madejski Stadium than Reading ones for the record crowd of more than 7,000 at the ground, with fans of the Royals unwilling to endure a second relegation of the season, the men’s team having been demoted to League One.
It was party vibes in the sun for Chelsea. Unbeaten at home this season, a feat they achieved for a second time, they seemed to have brought Kingsmeadow along the M4 with them.
The FA Cup final hero Kerr went agonisingly close to giving the visiting team the lead inside 15 minutes, meeting Ève Périsset’s cross from the right but, unmarked, the forward sidefooted over with the goal gaping. It was an uncharacteristic miss and the Australian looked furious with herself and slightly disbelieving.
She need not have worried, because two minutes later she would give Chelsea the lead. This time, it was made by Reiten, who wriggled free of Easther Mayi Kith and Brooke Hendrix on the left before swinging the ball towards Kerr for the forward to head in. It was the Norwegian forward’s 11th assist of the season; a tally only surpassed by Fran Kirby’s 12 in the 202-21 season.
Staring down the barrel of relegation, Reading had moments where they were able to break free of the relentless Chelsea dominance and pressure, Justine Vanhaevermaet going closest when she skewed her header wide from six yards out. Rose was forced off shortly after, the start coming too soon and a worrying sight for Canada ahead of the World Cup.
Before the break Chelsea would double their lead to all-but seal the third successive double. Mayi Kith got to a long ball headed towards Reiten first, but miscontrolled her touch and knocked the ball into the path of chasing forward who swept it through the legs of the goalkeeper Grace Moloney.
Kerr would put the cherry on top of the cake in the 88th minute, sweeping through the middle and blasting the ball off the base of the post before popping in the rebound. She held up her fingers – one, two, three four – and mouthed “four baby” down the camera, celebrations of the fourth back-to-back title starting early.